'Chhapaak': Does Deepika Padukone deserve to tell Laxmi Agarwal's story?
Everyone is itching to watch Deepika Padukone's upcoming film Chhapaak. The film, directed by Meghna Gulzar, has garnered a lot of praise as it is based on the life of acid attack survivor and activist Laxmi Agarwal. A lot many have commended the film for challenging Bollywood's obsession with beauty norms. But, does it? Is Chhapaak really indicative of Bollywood's progress?
Let's set aside the fact that you have to be next level insensitive to call a film about acid attacks, Chhapaak (translation: splash). Let's focus on Padukone. Is she even fit to play an acid attack survivor? Why does she get to play a survivor when a real survivor wouldn't be given an opportunity in films? What are the implications of such casting?
Isn't casting Padukone saying that she gets to portray Laxmi because she's considered pretty? Bear with me. This is not a comment on how talented she is as an actor. Yes, she can play the part. But, should she? This has more to do with how show-business is rooted in objectification, and wouldn't allow acid attack survivors to be a part of the industry.
By having a conventionally pretty actress wear prosthetic makeup, we're only making the idea of acid attack survivors more palatable for the audience, as filmmakers exploit their lived experiences for profit. In doing so, we're hardly doing anything to reduce the stigma. Chhapaak will reaffirm viewers' beliefs that actors like Padukone are passable, leaving no room for overdue opportunity for unconventional beauty in showbiz.
Take away the prosthetics and Padukone is just a person who benefits from a culture obsessed with how thin or fair one looks, or how spotless their skin is. That very culture stigmatizes people like Laxmi, which makes Padukone an ill-suited instrument for their story. With films like this, Padukone exerts even more dominance over those who don't conform to conventional beauty norms.
On the other hand, life been nothing but unfair to Laxmi. After years of activism, earning awards and recognition, Laxmi, a single mother, revealed how she was unemployed and broke just last year. In September 2018, Laxmi, a trained beautician, told HT that parlors refused to hire her stating that "customers will get scared." She had similar experiences when applying to call centres.
If we keep gate keeping and marginalizing people this way, how will we ever manage to make room for authentic representation of unconventional beauty in the media? And how will we ever even normalize it? Bollywood's bar for "breaking stereotypes" is so low, it's on the floor. Can we please remedy that so we can stop celebrating people who do the bare minimum?