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Movie Review: Thappad

Theme of the film
The film Thappad spotlights a very concerning issue that plagues our society since time immemorial i.e., patriarchy. Women have been subjected to the unjust practices since the dawn of time. Patriarchy runs deep, so deep that it is extremely difficult to unravel it once and for all. The film attempts to underline the logical inconsistencies and immoral tendencies which mar the concept of patriarchy. It shows how it has become a norm to treat women as inanimate objects which men own and can dispose off at their discretion.

It also highlights that how a woman is expected to sacrifice her identity and happiness in order to maintain her marriage, a breakdown of which is considered as an insult to her character. Moreover, she is also supposed to accept her subordination in the marriage for the sake of her family.

The film, in its course, also does a commendable work in raising awareness about the legal remedies available to woman in cases of cruelty[1] and irreconcilable breakdown of marriage[2] and shows that women have better options to avail instead of suffering silently. A moral lesson to be learnt from the film can also be the importance of apologizing for one's shortcomings and how far can it actually go in mending strained relations.

In the film Thappad, Vikram Sabharwal files a petition against his wife and the protagonist Amrita Sabharwal for 'restitution of conjugal rights'[3], as Amrita leaves her house to stay with her parents following a period of anger, grief, and contempt after being slapped by her husband in a celebration party hosted by him on occasion of his promotion to London. Amrita had always been a good housewife. She had given up on her dream to become the best classical dancer and instead decided to be best housewife.

She used to take care of not just Vikram but also his terminally ill mother who used to live with them. Moreso, she was happy and content in her life and in being a part of her overambitious husband's career. She would find her happiness in her husband's success until one day, when she was slapped by him at a party after Vikram had an altercation with his boss regarding his official position.

Marriage is an institution which rests on mutual love, respect, and trust. However, in our society, the pressure to have a successful marriage supersedes the need to have a happy marriage, something which in most cases affects the happiness and the life of a woman. Amrita could not accept this notion of marriage which rests on the subordination of women and not on mutual love and respect and therefore she proceeds to file a petition for divorce on 'mutual consent'[4] against her husband after finding herself unable to move on from the unfortunate slap. Notably, her husband also fails to tender an apology to her for his aggressive behaviour and believes that a single slap should not be the cause for severing ties of marriage.

Also, Amrita is advised against her action to file divorce not only by her mother-in-law but also by her own mother, which shows the inherent patriarchal mindset and biased understanding of a marriage the people in our society have. The only person that stands with her in this time of grief is her father.

The petition for divorce on mutual consent on grounds of irreconcilable breakdown of marriage initially fails as Vikram seeks for a restoration of his conjugal rights and a continuation of the marriage. Later, Amrita's lawyer Netra decides to add the claim for alimony and maintenance from Vikram in her petition.

The same is responded to by Vikram by accusing Amrita of having an ill intention to own Vikram's family's property and also that she did not fulfill her marital responsibilities and tortured Vikram's mother. She is also claimed to be having manic depression by her husband. Vikram also agrees to the divorce and presents a deal to Amrita where he would obtain the custody of his soon to be born child in exchange of alimony.

However, following the above accusations pressed on her, Amrita decides to include the charge of domestic violence by her husband in her petition as well. Also, a point to be noted is that the issues regarding the custody of her child is not our concern in this movie review. Towards the end of the film, following an emotional dialogue by Amrita to Vikram's mother Sulekha, both the parties agree to having a divorce on mutual consent and the charges for domestic violence are waived off by Amrita.

Cast of the Film
Amrita Sabharwal - Wife
Vikram Sabharwal - Husband
Netra Jaisingh - Complainant's counsel
Adv. Pramod Gujral - Defence counsel
Sachin Sandhu - Amrita's Father
Sandhya Sandhu - Amrita's Mother
Sulekha Sabharwal - Vikram's Mother
Romesh Sabharwal - Vikram's Father

Legal Issues
The following are the legal issues which arise from the facts of the film. Firstly, can a petition for restitution of conjugal rights be filed by Vikram after Amrita leaves her house? Secondly, can a mere slap amount to cruelty and be a ground for divorce under Section 13(1)(ia) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955? And lastly, can Amrita present a petition for mutual divorce under Section 13B(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act on grounds of irretrievable breakdown of marriage? The aforementioned issues are answered in the analysis below.

The first issue at hand is whether a petition for restitution of conjugal rights can be filed by Vikram against Amrita. Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act states a husband or wife may file for restitution of conjugal rights, when either of the party to marriage withdraws from the society of the other without reasonable excuse. Amrita had withdrawn from Vikram's house after she was slapped by him in a party in front of numerous guests. The question that now arises is that whether a slap can constitute legal cruelty[5] and therefore be accepted as a reasonable excuse for withdrawal from the husband's society.

In the case of Suman Singh v. Sanjay Singh[6], the husband Sanjay Singh had filed a petition for divorce on grounds of cruelty. The case reached the apex court and a judgement was pronounced wherein the court stated that mere isolated incident of aggression and verbal exchange cannot amount to cruelty under Section 13(1)(ia) of the Hindu Marriage Act.

The appeal by the wife was therefore allowed. Therefore, following the ratio of the above case, it can be concluded that a mere slap cannot be a reasonable excuse for withdrawing from the husband's society. The petition for restitution of conjugal rights by Vikram would therefore be allowed.

The second issue is that if a mere slap can amount to cruelty and be a ground for divorce under Section 13(1)(ia) of the Hindu Marriage Act. In the leading case of Janmohamadkhan v. Haizunnisa Yasinkhan & Anr.[7] , the court had remarked that 'continuous ill-treatment' is what constitutes legal or mental cruelty. Mental cruelty was also defined in the case of Savitri Pandey v. Ram Chandra Pandey[8], wherein the court said that cruelty postulates a treatment of the petitioner with such cruelty so as to cause a reasonable apprehension of harm or injury in the petitioner's mind.

In Amrita's case, such an apprehension was not evident as Vikram had tried to rebuild and mend his relationship with Amrita. The court had also said that cruelty cannot be adjudged on the basis of the sensitivity of the petitioner[9]. Therefore, in this case, a slap cannot be said to constitute legal or mental cruelty

 However, in the case of Samar Ghosh v. Jaya Ghosh[10], the court had said that the concept of cruelty differs from person to person depending upon factors such as their upbringing, background, financial position and more. Amrita can very well use the ratio of this case to argue that a slap for her is enough to amount to cruelty as the same had led to an irretrievable breakdown of her marriage.

Lastly, the issue is, can Amrita present a petition for mutual divorce under Section 13B(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act on grounds of irretrievable breakdown of marriage. So, towards the end in the film, both Amrita and Vikram had consented to obtaining a divorce on mutual consent. The question for us here is that whether Amrita can use the grounds of irretrievable breakdown of marriage for getting the divorce.

The case of AVGV Ramu v. ASR Bharathi[11] shows us the light in this situation. In the case, an intention of the wife to not to keep marital relations alive was held to be enough for assuming the irretrievable breakdown of marriage.

Similar is the case of Amrita, who had lost her love and respect for Vikram after he had slapped her in public and subsequently pressed false and insulting charges upon her, as already mentioned above. Therefore, the petition by Amrita seeking divorce under Section 13B(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act, would in all probabilities be allowed the court.

  1. Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, §13(1)(ia)
  2. Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, §13B(1)
  3. Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, §9
  4. Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, §13B(1)
  5. Janmohamadkhan v. Haizunnisa Yasinkhan & Anr., (1981) 4 SCC 250
  6. AIR 2017 SC 1316
  7. (1981) 4 SCC 250
  8. (2002) 2 SCC 73
  9. Ibid.
  10. 2007 (4) SCC 511
  11. AIR 2018 SC 202

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