Special screening of Chhapaak in Mumbai: ‘Felt like acid was being thrown at me again’

Srinath Rao
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At the end of the film, opinion among the survivors was unanimous on how well Chhapaak had treated its sensitive subject.

Lalita Benbansi, during a special screening of the movie Chhapaak at a popular multiplex, felt most scared when actor Deepika Padukone’s character Malti is attacked with acid. “I felt like acid was being thrown at me again,” Lalita said, after the show ended on Sunday evening.

Lalita and a group of acid attack survivors said the portrayal of their lives in the Meghna Gulzar directorial could not have been more honest. “I could see my own pain reflected on screen. But whatever pain Malti suffers in the film, each of us have suffered many times more,” Zakira Shaikh said.

Shaikh lost an eye and suffered extensive injuries to her face and arms when she was attacked with acid a few years ago. She keeps her face almost completely covered with a scarf, with only her unharmed eye visible. Acid attack survivors, women and men, from across Mumbai, Nallasopara, Shahapur and Bhusawal, came to the screening at the invitation of Daulat Bi Khan, also an acid attack survivor, the film’s producers and a skincare brand.

Khan, who was 26 years old when she was attacked, established the Acid Survivors Saahas Foundation in 2016 to help other victims. Marketing it as #skinofcourage, the skincare brand handed out hampers, which had chemical-free products as claimed by the firm, at the screening.

An hour before the show, the excitement among survivors and their families at being photographed and interviewed at the multiplex foyer generated enough curiosity among other cinema-goers.

At the end of the film though, opinion among the survivors was unanimous on how well Chhapaak had treated its sensitive subject.

“The film was amazing,” said Prashant Pingle, who was attacked four years ago. “It is good someone has touched a burning subject and portrayed it sensitively. But this sensitivity needs to be shown by police and society,” said Pingle, who is awaiting commencement of the trial in his case. However, Khan, whose story has been well-documented since she was attacked in 2010, had only a single grouse: Padukone’s Malti was readily supported by family, friends and civil society.

“She has it easy from the start. Only we know how much we have to struggle for acceptance how hard each (reconstructive) surgery is,” she said.