India is a land of various cultures. Back in the 1950s, many writers migrated from the Literature Lahore and settled in Bombay. The output was obviously flavours of North India and Punjabi culture which become “general” later- and unfortunately it continues till today. To cater a wider audience, we find this generalization of culture. So, now we get a biographical comedy-drama on the Tamil-born Arunachalam Muruganantham transfered from Tamil Nadu to Madhya Pradesh. When will the roots and the cultures get along in a diversed country like India? Here, the film addresses an importantly bigger issue of menstrual hygiene which for all cultures stands the same. So, I spare it – but the generalization is keeping away the masses from knowing the cultures lays upon.
Inspired from the life of Tamil Nadu-based social activist who revolutionized the concept of menstrual hygiene in rural India by creating a low-cost sanitary napkins machine. Upon realizing the extent to which women are affected by their menses, Lakshmi (Akshay Kumar) sets out to create a sanitary pad machine and to provide inexpensive sanitary pads to the women of rural India. With just a 5-minute introductory song “Aaj Se Teri” , R Balki comes quickly to the central point. Lakshmi’s character undergoes skepticism, superstitions and even gets kicked out of the village – the character evolution is evident in the ranging graph of the narrative. Also, it symbolically dwells into two different halves, a rural sight and an urban sight (to some extent). Nevertheless, the story of real Arunachalam is so inspiring – the writers (R Balki & Swanand Kirkire) weave a typical Bollywood-ish story – which makes the first half underwhelming. While many films fail in the second half, Padman soars high with its deft writing and flatters itself. The creative liberty taken by the makers work more in the favour of the film than the real-inspired story.
It addresses the sanitary napkin and menstrual hygiene issue explicitly without going overboard. With supporting characters written in a realistic manner, they uplift the character of Lakshmi to do things where the writing succeeds. Even Balki’s own muse knocks down punch lines and boosts the film, Amitabh Bachchan. And like every R Balki Film, he messes up near the climax. Here, Sonam Kapoor’s Pari character gets a major chunk which after a while gets out-of-sync and sinks. Slowly, the pacing winds down and we get a simpler end – quite unsatisfactory for a huge momentum. Nevertheless, we get many brilliantly directed, written and shot scenes like the conversation between Pari and her Father, Lakshmi trying to make pads in a serene location, United Nations, etc.
I’m not an admirer of Akshay Kumar, I never was. But, a scene where he asks the feedback of pad and breaks down in front of Sonam Kapoor shattered my bias or whatever. He delivers an earnest and gutsy performance – it is his presence that will take the issue to a wider audience. And thankfully, the film stopped becoming another “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha”.
Padman is a well-intentioned film where the flaws have to take a backseat for a larger perspective and issue. But, the strength of the film lies in the inspirational story of Mr. Arunachalam Muruganantham. I don’t remember the last Bollywood film I applauded. We’ve our unique superhero entertaining and educating, at least it will initiate a conversation!
Release: 9 February, 2018
Director: R. Balki
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