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The Slap Was a Metaphor for Something Bigger: ‘Thappad’ Writer

Mrunmayee Lagoo makes her debut as a screenwriter with ‘Thappad’.

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Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad has been receiving praise from all quarters for Taapsee Pannu’s performance and for the writing of the film. The Quint spoke to Mrunmayee Lagoo, who made her screenwriting debut with the film, about co-writing with Anubhav Sinha, why ‘one slap’ was an essential plot point and what she would do had she been in the same situation.

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I want to start by addressing the central conflict of the film. Which is that Taapsee’s character, a woman, decides to leave her husband because he slaps her. A lot of other characters reiterate the fact that it’s just one slap. In my personal opinion I feel like that is reason enough for anyone to leave their husband but is that something you grappled with when you were writing?

Mrunmayee Lagoo: I think it is very important to address the beginning you know. See, if it was about a man who has had a violent temper or who is like this then in that case it’s a very different movie. A lot of women go through this once, twice, thrice many times but each one has a starting point, so everyone will identify with that. And when sir(Anubhav) was saying that one is also not okay is a very strong message for people who’d be taking it for too long. You know to raise your voice at that first instance is very important. It is just reassuring for those people who are still in it over and over again. So, I didn’t grapple with one or two or three, what we really grappled with is how to make this slap feel like a metaphor and a catalyst to something bigger.

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So were there people who told you that it’s just a one slap?

Mrunmayee: Oh yeah, in our own office. In fact after when sir thought of the idea and when I wrote the entire first draft, there were many people who said “sir we still think that this is wrong, that why she is leaving, they should make up, she should forgive, he should say this”.  But see the first draft is the first draft, it doesn’t mean anything it’s just whatever conversations are happening are now on paper. So, we took all of that feedback, we went back and rewrote, rewrote, rewrote. And then the same people when the film was complete, even while shooting there were people like “is this really enough?”, “is this enough of conflict?”. But after they saw the film, I mean I am not even exaggerating, those same people came and told us that it’s a good thing that “it’s good all of you did this, we completely agree”. So, there were like conversions happening right in front of our eyes within the crew. So, I shared all the stories with my dad, my husband, so when I first told them they saw the difficulty but neither of them said that it’s not enough of a conflict and this came from two men. So, I kind of knew that at least in terms of reason we are okay. We are not like exaggerating something which other people clearly define as okay.

So I was seeing that in Anubhav Sinha’s interviews he was saying that you guys had discussions about the fact that the husband was too much of a good guy. But you know when I was watching the film I found him to be quite an entitled person. And I think that his personality was not reason enough for her to not leave him. Why did you feel like that was an issue?

Mrunmayee: Actually what happened is that even when we were almost into the shoot, there was some stuff that was bothering me because it has to be very balanced between him and her. Because the minute he becomes too good, she becomes too unreasonable and if she becomes too unreasonable, he becomes too good. So, for me I was always just very worried about that balance.

But the few strokes, the few what do you call, embellishments that we kind of added actually became character-defining things. Things like his reaction when she says, ‘Your ex-girlfriend Pinky Chaddha called and she’s getting married’ and he says ‘Oh, she also found someone’, it defines how he thinks. When he says, ‘Why do women even drive cars?’, that again defines it. While these look like throwaway embellishments they kind of define the entitlement, the superiority that lay very deep within him.

The whole car thing, almost every woman is furious at the way we are looked at as drivers. And I think Anubhav sir has a fantastic theory about this. He told me once that we think that women can’t drive and also they have more difficulty driving. And I was like yeah tell me. He said, ‘Driving is about decision making at every point and women are just not groomed to be decision-makers. Even at home they’ll be making decisions about what to cook but it will come from the man only. This is what he likes and this is what he dislikes, so these are small things in our society and we are just not groomed to be decision-makers.’ So, for me that I wanted that one tangible, visible growth of Amrita and for me the car was very relatable, we could see it. From where it started to where it ended was a very nice straightforward trajectory.

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So how did these observations come into the film because there is so much everyday sexism that you’ve shown in the film? What do you think a female perspective brought to this? What do you think your lens was able to give?

I was probably able to get into the details of things. So, like after the slap there is a tendency to jump cut to the next scene. But for a woman, it’s the most humiliating point.

You know but for a woman, it’s the most humiliating point which needs to be seen for everyone to feel it. So instead of jumping to her already in the room, I really felt we need to see her in that party while the rest of them are already moving on because people get uncomfortable. The first thing they want to do is break the tension. But I feel like we can’t jump from there, we have to remain with her because that is when people will feel what she’s feeling.

So, something like that. Even the way she is with Vikram, he sleeps first, she sleeps afterwards but the body language… What it looks like when you wrap up your home in the night and then you go to sleep, those kind of details I added because it comes from experience, it comes from watching moms, sisters etc. That is something I got into the film.

Video Editor: Veeru Krishan Mohan
Camera: Gautam Sharma

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Topics:  Taapsee Pannu   Anubhav Sinha   Thappad 

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