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CHHAPAAK is sensible, poignant, yet underwhelming!

Sensitive portrayal, minimal melodrama and solid performances make CHHAPAAK a worthy drama. However, its sluggish screenplay and lack of content means it loses its steam a bit too early. Nevertheless, totally worth a watch!

Looking at acid violence through the lens of survivor Laxmi Agarwal, Chhapaak tells the story of a girl (Malti) coming from an unprivileged but humble background. When Malti refuses the advances made by a man twice her age, she is attacked with acid on a street in New Delhi. With her face irreparably burnt, Malti undergoes medico-social rehabilitation, a prolonged string of facial surgeries, a legal battle against her attacker and a constant struggle to become economically independent. During this time, Malti also joins a campaign against Acid violence and comes across other victims. She forms an inexplicable bond with Amol, the founder of the campaign but it is Malti’s game-changing PIL in the Supreme Court of India, with her lawyer Archana Bajaj, that inspires the Judiciary to amend the laws on acid violence. A story of the triumph of the human spirit.

Meghna Gulzar needs credit for taking up a sensitive subject like this and weaving a believable screenplay around the real life story of Laxmi Agarwal. It’s one thing to read about a subject, and another to see it with your own eyes. This film is far more effective in jolting your gut in the way it portrays the scene. The slow motion unfolding of the splash resulting in a melting face, with a heart-rending Arijit Singh song written by Gulzar in the background, is truly heart melting. Also, the fact that it’s all shown in the most real way possible, makes it so much more compelling. Meghna’s protagonist Malti is a strong progressive woman whose confidence and spirit are uplifting in more ways than one. Another highlight of the film is the subtlety with which it deals with Malti’s life.

Coming to the problems, the film unfolds at a snail’s pace. Things take forever to happen and apart from the main event, there’s hardly any meat in the content, which has to fill a two-hour duration. It’s all relevant, but you tend to lose interest in developments which soon start sounding preachy. This makes the whole experience a tad underwhelming.

The acting is the strongest pillar of this film. Deepika Padukone is in form and how. Her portrayal is a real as it gets. Neither less nor more, her emotions are pitch perfect all the time. Her transformation into the acid attack survivor is definitely a massive feat. While she played the burnt faced girl to perfection, the highlight for me were her expressions in the flashback scene where she plays a school girl. She is arguably the best mainstream actress we have today. Vikrant Massey is as usual superb. His role isn’t well written though, which reduces his character’s impact overall. All others in the supporting cast, do a good job.

To sum up, CHHAPAAK is film which succeeds in what it set out for, just that it isn’t as fine as we expected it to be. Notwithstanding, I’d recommend it!

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