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Directed By: R Balki
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Apte, Sonam Kapoor, Sudhir Pandey
Most heroes wear capes, but this one wears sanitary pads, sort of. Padman is a movie which is a must for a country like India, where even in educated households the practice of segregation during those 5 days continues to this day. Its a brave attempt on the subject that is still taboo but the storytelling has let down the story and protagonist (both real and reel).
Talking about the real life hero, the movie is based on the life of Arunachalam Murugantham, a social entrepreneur from Coimbatore who invented the low cost sanitary pad making machine and created a revolution by generating awareness about the unhygienic practices around menstruation in rural India. Apart from creating pads he generates jobs and income for a lot of rural women who earn a living producing and selling those pads. A Padmashri awardee, he is a very popular man: giving lectures in IIT’s, IIM’s, Harvard and even TED Talks. Watching those lectures, Arunachalam comes across as a witty guy with a sense of humor.
On reel, Akshay Kumar plays Lakshmikant Chauhan- a welder in a small town in Madhya Pradesh. He is an 8th pass, simple, happy man very much aware of and very much in love with his wife Gayatri (Radhika Apte). There are small things he does for her- like welding a backseat on his cycle- which make him endearing to us. Akshay Kumar has brought sincerity to the role but the storytelling has let him down.
Padman has two halves: where the first half covers the stigma and shame that leads him into the quest. Murugantham’s research methodology is brought to fore in the first half where he is seen persuading his wife, sisters and medical college girls to use his cheaply made pads and asking for a feedback. These scenes are made to be funny when they should have been dramatic in order to have some impact. There is only one message (of sharm) and it gets repeated on and on throughout the first half to the point of irritation. (For every time that word gets uttered, a shot game would’ve left all very inebriated!) All other issues like the segregation and second class citizen- like treatment of the menstruating ladies; their so- called impurity; the morbidity and mortality associated with the unhygienic practices; and most of all their discomfort and the internalization of all such atrocious societal norms as correct and de rigueur are merely given lip service.
The second half of Padman is much better as it marks the entry of Pari Walia (Sonam Kapoor). I never thought I would ever say these words but Sonam Kapoor makes the movie bearable. The irony is that she is not needed in the story and could have been easily been avoided. To put this into perspective: Sonam Kapoor is needed in the movie for the story telling but not for the story. She shows him the way and bridges the obvious gap between him and his “customers”; her leaving a high paying job to help Lakshmi is a nice little angle.
Balki, I think didn’t know what he wanted to do with the script, he has clearly lacked imagination and it shows in the scenes. Sonam Kapoor’s intro for one is probably one of the worst in the history of cinema and her meeting with Lakshmi is unbelievable and felt force fit. His speech at the UN is nowhere near what it was in actual and felt made up rather than spontaneous.
After all the flaws I would still recommend it, simply because of the issue it raises. It has to be embraced and discussed freely. Although abolished, untouchability still rears its ugly head every month for girls and women in many households- and so movies like this one are to be welcomed with open arms and shown everywhere- maybe made tax free or screened in schools. The story of Arunachalam Murugantham needs to be spread and celebrated- all the extensive marketing and tweets of women with their sanitary pads will be futile if this movie doesn’t reach as many men and women. I also believe that Padman should have been made 8-10 years ago but still its better late than never.