Inspiring ‘Chhapaak’ shows triumph of human spirit

Meghna Gulzar’s heartbreaking film centers on 19-year-old Malti (Deepika Padukone) in the aftermath of an acid attack as she deals with legal and personal ramifications of the trauma. Told with grit and grace, this shocking true story follows Malti on her road to recovery. (BKP: 4/5)

Review by Vice President and Managing Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Setting the tone for the film, Gulzar opens Chhapaak with recreated 2012 protests of the Delhi gang-rape case – and Malti (based on real-life survivor Laxmi Aggarwal),  the victim of a brutal acid attack. This particular hate crime strips away Malti’s facial features, a shocking visual for both the viewer and the protagonist herself. Portrayed by Deepika Padukone, we experience the traumatic aftermath of the attack along with Malti as she sees herself in the mirror for the first time, evoking an understandable blood-curdling scream.

Chhapaak follows the teenager dealing with physical and emotional scars, a universal story sequestered in an indie film. For a 19-year-old girl with a bright future, one single event forces her into a life of activism for acid attack victims, legal battles in court and continuous surgeries for her facial deformities. 

Although the film could have benefitted from leaning on her familial relationships more, rather than the journalists and lawyers and a slow second half, the overall message of strength and resilience outweighs anything that doesn’t work for it. It is a testament to Gulzar’s character to want to tell this story – one that people should know. 

Deepika Padukone in this leading role is strikingly poignant, trading in any movie glamour for hauntingly real prosthetics. She carries off what I assume was a monumental task on all fronts, having all her emotions conveyed through her eyes – and under prosthetic makeup. She has to experience the highs and lows of the human spirit in not only her home, but hospitals and courts. Wherever Padukone is placed, she delivers – much like Jake Gyllenhaal in the 2017 American film Stronger (one which the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences grossly overlooked Gyllenhaal for his portrayal of Boston Marathon Bombing victim Jeff Bauman). 

Both Stronger and Chhapaak detail the things we take for granted (trying to stand, or in Malti’s case, trying to put on an earring), and the obstacles human beings are capable of overcoming. Both are true stories aimed to inspire rather than be vindictive of the people who’ve wronged them. And both accomplish what they set out to do – highlight the human spirit.

© Brigid K. Presecky (1/10/20) FF2 Media

Photo credits: FOX STAR STUDIOS

Q: Does Chhapaak pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes! Malti has scenes with her family and a female journalist.

Tags: FF2 Media

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Brigid K. Presecky
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Brigid Presecky began her career in journalism at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. In 2008, she joined FF2 Media as a part-time film critic and multimedia editor. Receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from Bradley University, she moved to Los Angeles where she worked in development, production and publicity for Berlanti Productions, Entertainment Tonight and Warner Bros. Studios, respectively. Returning to her journalistic roots in Chicago, she is now a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and certified Rotten Tomatoes Film Critic.
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