Director: R Balki
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Sonam Kapoor, Radhika Apte
A young girl teases her brother when he wants to romance his wife, but runs away horrified when she sees a sanitary napkin in his hands. A loving but naive wife is scandalised as her husband is “obsessed with women’s problems”. It is moments like these that make Akshay Kumar’s PadMan elevating, without being didactic. R Balki’s much hyped film is based on the real life story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, called India’s “menstrual man” for transforming the lives of underprivileged women who had to use old rags, sand and leaves during their periods. Despite being peppered with melodrama and some scenes that go on for too long, the entertaining PadMan delivers a robust message — the importance of women’s menstrual health.
Akshay plays Lakshmikant Chauhan, a school drop-out who works as a mechanic. He has just got married and is smitten by his wife Gayatri, played by Radhika Apte. Minutes into the film, we are told that not only Lakshmi loves his wife; he is also sensitive towards women and their problems. The film traces Lakshmi’s fight with the society, his family and even his wife, and his own financial and educational limitations, in order to ensure women start using hygienic alternatives when they are menstruating.
PadMan begins on slow note and drags on for some time before picking up pace. The characters in the supporting cast seem to be in a race for overacting – be it Akshay’s onscreen mom or random background characters in every frame, they look like they were simply lifted from a 60s movie.
However, the film forces you to look at the big picture. The film tackles the “shame” that our society insists on imposing on periods, head on. From women being ostracised during “that time of the month” to young girls shying away from school to avoid any “embarrassment”, co-writer Balki and Swanand Kirkire have managed to put it all out exactly as it is. Some of the exchanges that Lakshmi has in the course of attempting to find a cheap alternative to sanitary pads seem in-your-face, but these also bring forth issues that our society needs to address.
In one of his arguments with Gayatri, while pleading with her to use a sanitary pad, Lakshmi says he tried convincing his three sisters and mom to use sanitary pads instead of dirty cloth but they didn’t understand his objective. No, this man does not restrict his sensitivity to his wife alone – he wants every woman to fully live life just like a man and not be banished to a portion of the house for a few days every month.
Sonam makes quite a late entry in the narrative, but adds charm to every frame she inhabits. Her character is beautifully etched, perhaps to balance Radhika’s naive and self-destructive wife. Sonam’s character not only offers marketing and financial help to Lakshmi, but also shares a modern and chilled-out life mantra when the former is unsure of himself.
While Radhika disappears into the naive, blindfolded woman who believes “auraton ke liye sabse badi beemari hai sharam”, Akshay tries his best to be the superhero he has come to be identified with in his films. Only, Akshay’s accent and tone often fluctuate between those of a villager, a person with the basic knowledge of English and someone who is educated enough to differentiate between American and British accents. Sonam plays a privileged South Delhi girl and fits perfectly into the role. She also gets to mouth some of the best comebacks directed at Akshay in the film.