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From DDLJ to Dil Chahta Hai, Bollywood has one act to thank — that one tight thappad

From gratuitous comedy to the turning point of a movie, a slap is an essential part of Bollywood’s history.

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Thappadchaantachapatchapedjhaapadjhaaplappadraiptatamaachakantaap… The sheer number of synonyms for the word ‘slap’ is enough to know that slapping is an important part of Indian culture. Parents, teachers, friends, lovers — every relationship in India is basically a slapping free-for-all. Many will recall MTV’s hilarious One Tight Slap, little slice-of-life sketches that showcased exactly the kind of person who deserves a rap across the face — someone talking loudly in a movie theatre, for example. Each episode ended with a voice booming “One tight slap” and an incredibly cathartic whack.

But MTV was still urban, niche. India’s relationship with the slap is perhaps best seen in something more pervasive, cutting across classes in a way that nothing else can: Bollywood. The slap has long been an integral part of Hindi cinema. From disapproving fathers to abusive lovers to cops to, sometimes, even children slapping their parents, a slap in Bollywood has variously provided entertainment, shock value, a plot point, an emotional reveal, catharsis and much else. Which is why it was only a matter of time before someone made a movie based on it. Thappad, starring Taapsee Pannu, tells the story of a woman who wants to leave her husband after he slaps her once. The lawyer cannot believe she wants to leave after “just one slap”.

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Slaps that changed the story

Just one slap is often enough to change a relationship. Just ask Aamir Khan’s Akash in Dil Chahta Hai (2001), who receives a solid one from his best friend Sid (Akshaye Khanna) for making tawdry remarks about the latter’s relationship with an older woman. The two don’t speak for months. That one action became the point at which the film suddenly changed gear from a college buddy movie to a much deeper and more complex look at relationships. That one scene is what makes the movie a classic.

Ten years later, another buddy movie, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (incidentally made by Dil Chahta Hai director Farhan Akhtar’s sister Zoya), used the slap in quite a different way. When prankster Imran (played by Farhan Akhtar) throws his workaholic friend Arjun’s (Hrithik Roshan) phone into a gorge, Arjun’s angry slap is about much more than the phone. He proceeds to finally express how hurt he was when Imran had slept with his girlfriend, letting go of a tension that had been simmering between the two for four years. The slap, then, becomes the beginning of a reconciliation.

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It’s all about slapping your children

Then, of course, there is The Parent Slap. It is the one most consistently used in Bollywood, usually because parents object to their offspring’s choice of lover. But the choice of target is what makes this interesting. In Aar Paar (1954), for example, when Nikki’s (Shyama) father disapproves of her relationship with Kalu (Guru Dutt), he slaps her. Four decades later, in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Bauji (Amrish Puri) doesn’t lay a hand on his daughter Simran (Kajol), but you can probably still hear the echoes of the multiple tight ones he gives Raj (Shah Rukh Khan). It was the ’90s, after all, and Bollywood had just witnessed its worst decade, full of trashy, bloody, mindless gore and reductive rape-revenge dramas. Emerging from the ashes of the 1980s required feel-good family films of the kind made by the Barjatyas and Chopras, and later, by Karan Johar. These movies had their own problems, of course, but mindless violence, especially against women, wasn’t one of them.

Johar, in fact, used the slap to great effect in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001), when the Raichand family patriarch (Amitabh Bachchan) is told by his younger son Rohan (Hrithik Roshan) that he is heartless for disowning his adopted older son Rahul (SRK). The response is a slap, of course, but Rohan doesn’t react badly. To him, this is proof that Raichand Senior does, in fact, adore Rahul.

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When women slapped men

The ’90s also became the decade in which mainstream Bollywood began to show more women slapping men. Of course, it was only because these women were gold-diggers, like Devika (Pooja Bedi) in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992), or arrogant and career-minded, like Sheetal Jaitly (Sridevi) in Laadla. The latter movie, in fact, is fascinating for how deeply rooted it is in misogyny, while also showing a superbly drawn-out power play between classes. Sheetal is the owner of a factory where Raju (Anil Kapoor) is a worker. She slaps her employees frequently and this is because she is ambitious, and doesn’t want her factory — dearer to her than her own parents, she says — to slip from its top position in the country. In a man, this would have been seen as a sign of professionalism (so last millennium), but in a woman, it was obviously unacceptable. Eventually, Sheetal marries Raju, quits her job and becomes a homemaker. But interestingly, it is not Raju who is made the boss, but his former girlfriend and Sheetal’s former secretary, Kajal (Raveena Tandon). Because you can either be married or be the boss, apparently.

The movie is also interesting because it brings us to MRAs. Men’s rights activists, that delightful breed of uselessness, would probably say that because Sheetal slaps Raju and he slaps her back, all’s kosher. It’s the same argument used by defenders of Kabir Singh, so many years later in 2019, ignoring many other transgressions by Kabir, so many other crimes.

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The ugly slap

But wait, we got a bit ahead of ourselves. We were talking about women slapping men, in which case one must mention Ugly Aur Pagli (2008). Not because it was any good, but because of its tag line: 99 slaps, 1 kiss. Yep, Kuhu (Mallika Sherawat) slaps Kabir (Ranvir Shorey) 99 times, apparently. This is what one might call the ‘gratuitous slap’. Another excellent example of this is Holiday (2014), in which Saiba (Sonakshi Sinha) slaps her father (yes, you read that right) repeatedly, for comic effect, to show how modern she is.

Bollywood has always had a complicated relationship with modern Indian women. Most often, you’re told a woman is modern because she’s shown drinking, smoking, having sex, talking about sex and cussing. One excellent mainstream movie that portrayed the modern Indian woman beautifully was Band Baaja Baaraat (2010). And one of the finest scenes in it, in fact, revolves around a slap. Shruti (Anushka Sharma) slaps Bittoo (Ranveer Singh) and tells him to grow up and stop believing that she would actually marry someone else just to take revenge on him because he wasn’t in love with her. It’s a great scene, because Bittoo has the wind knocked out of him as Shruti isn’t shy of saying she was in love with him, and also rails about his college-boy ideas about their one night together. And Bittoo, in that one scene, grows up and becomes what he always wanted to, a real man, not because he has a job but because he is unafraid to be confused and vulnerable.

And now, here we are, in 2020, still grappling with ideas about real men and real love, and whether a slap has any role to play in either. But maybe Thappad will have some answers.

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  1. Nice and True Article. Our society has always considered women as victim , even though she had purposely done something wrong, her act were always shown Rightful to gain sympathy n popularity. Thanks for this article and I do hope society n our people will accept it.

  2. So only women rights activist are fruitful.. What do you say about child rights.. Your women ministry first care for women rights and if they get some time then talk a out children.. When we say MRAs, they are really talking about Equality. Equality Mena Article 14 of Constitution of India. MRAs talks about banning western Feminism… MRAs strongly stand to strengthen family System.. But i am sure you feminist media don’t value culture, humanity and relationships.. What feminist want power and money.

  3. While the article is humorous, but the unfortunate and biased mention of the MRAs in the article clearly shows the gross insensitivity of the author.
    It’s sad that half of the world’s population is being sent behind in garb of gender Equality.
    MRAs don’t represent those who justify slapping and violence.
    MRAs represent those men who are themselves victims of violence, crimes and let to die a very slow and painful death while being ordinary citizens and human beings.
    MRAs as the term says reoresents the silent majority of victims which includes men, Women, Children, Senior citizens, etc.
    It would have been better if the author saw the plight of the families whose lives have been completely destroyed in any MRA centre.

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