Deepika Padukone is an undeniable force in Bollywood, an incredible actress who has put a spotlight on the plight of acid attack survivor with her production Chhapaak.
The film, which marks Deepika's debut in production, ensures that the audience walks away with a deeper understanding of the steps they can take in their own lives to be part of the change its makers are seeking to achieve.
Directed by Meghna Gulzar and written by Atika Chohan, Chhapaak might not erase the social stigma associated with acid attack overnight, but it will definitely provide every viewer with a brand new perspective on how to think and talk about the subject.
Played by Deepika, Malti (inspired from acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal) is scarred for life after she is attacked with acid by a man, who she refuses to marry. But she finds strength from her tortuous ordeal, inspiring hundreds of other women to come forward with their own horror stories about acid attacks.
Chhapaak is a brutal reminder of what some scenes describe as “the complete lack of empathy” shown towards the acid attack survivors. But as disturbing as the film is, it is a testament to the power and strength of these survivors who don't identify themselves as victims.
Deepika adroitly sprinkles magic into her astonishingly authentic, honest portrayal of Malti. Throughout the film, she remains focussed on the empowering potential of her character and proves she is one of the finest actresses of her generation.
What makes Chhapaak all the more empowering is that it's directed, headlined, written and produced by women, indicating that they are finally making their way into the social-impact storytellings on terms other than those defined by men.
Barring a handful of films like NH10, Mardaani and Pink, socially-relevant movies in the past have been led by mostly male actors. From 3 Idiots and Toilet: Ek Prem Katha to Pad Man and Article 15, no major movie addressing serious social issue had a female actor in a leading role, which devastatingly hints toward the still mostly unbroken glass ceiling.
In a 2019 interview with Entrepreneur.com, actress Anushka Sharma had emphasised the personal responsibility she felt to tackle a deficit of "good enough" roles for women in Bollywood.
“There was a need of certain kind of movies and I wanted to make them. When NH10 came to me, I knew that it would be a film which is going to be on my shoulder, I have to pull it off. I knew that the film would not appeal all but will have a heavy impact. I was confident about the film and I told them that I was ready to shoulder the load considering the fact that it was made on a minimal budget. And, this factor gave the movie the opportunity to be more real," said Anushka on turning producer.
At this point, Bollywood wouldn't dare underestimate, both Anushka and Deepika— and of late, it hasn't. In a recent interview with News18, actress Kareena Kapoor Khan spoke at length about how this would change Bollywood for women.
"Now with Anushka and Deepika becoming producers, the conversation is slightly different. Producers are left with no choice but to involve the heroine on board to get the kind of kickback because they are bringing in that amount of revenue," she said.
Kareena, however, added, "This change requires a bigger dynamic rather than only in the film fraternity. Film is only a small fraction of this society. For that, there has to be a dramatic change in terms of your DNA. It is the way, say a man looks at a woman on streets, that should also change for that matter. But I am glad that a small part is at least being acknowledged now, and conversation is on."
Moreover, as Deepika takes charge of her career with a hard-hitting film Chhapaak, we only hope that it will pave the way for women to headline impactful projects.