Director: R. Balki;
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Apte, Sonam Kapoor
Moons Some films you think you know everything about until you see them. I expected PadMan to be good in parts. Not exceptionally beautiful throughout. It is, after all, a commercial mainstream Bollywood film on menstruation and sanitary pads based in rural India. I didn’t think it would be a documentary. But I wasn’t prepared for a lump in my throat at the end, either.
The story of Arunachalam Muruganatham who revolutionized the concept of menstrual hygiene in rural India by creating a low-cost sanitary pads machine has been made legend already by Twinkle Khanna’s story The Sanitary Man from her bestselling novel The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad. R. Balki has taken the character out of his village and put him into a 21st century love story whose script is sanitary hygiene from first frame till last.
The biographical comedy-drama is nice for two hours. The issue is for real. Menstruation is a social taboo in the country, 82 per cent women don’t wear sanitary pads, there’s zero awareness about hygiene, also zero tolerance for the bleeding woman in villages. The true story about the entrepreneur who faced panchayet ostracism for being fascinated by his wife’s periods only because he wants to make affordable sanitary pads for her is tackled with rare sensitivity and humour by the masterful Balki.
But PadMan stops being nice in the 20 minutes thereafter. That’s the climax. It gets unbelievably sensational. Akshay Kumar aka Lakshmikant Chauhan aka PadMan steps out and hits it into stratosphere with a stirring, once-in-a-lifetime performance that tugs fiercely at your heartstrings. You laugh between unexpected tears. Silently weep while laughing uproariously. And you applaud finally, for Akshay Kumar, for PadMan, for being Indian and witnessing cinematic history; because what’s been made is not just a Bollywood entertainer carrying a social message on an unmentionable subject, but a slice of life film about the odds a man would defy to protect his love for his wife.
Akshay Kumar is overwhelming, his speech at the United Nations deserves the standing ovation it gets, the expressions on his face through his shameful and lonesome journey reflect the hurt of rejection, the despair of helplessness, the heartbreak of recognition, and finally the loss of a man who’s got the world at his feet but has lost friendship and love. He is brilliantly supported by Radhika Apte as his lovable but narrow-minded village wife, and Sonam Kapoor as the urban sophisticate who makes the PadMan happen.
R. Balki has brought his wisdom from the advertising world and experience of filmmaking to tell this true story simply, honestly and beautifully. Rural India somehow has never looked as good as it did in Akshay Kumar’s Toilet: Ek Prem Katha last year and PadMan now. The film has five songs that meld into the story. You don’t expect them. You don’t know when they come and go. But they remain in your head long after you leave the auditorium.
For the price of your ticket, you also get Amitabh Bachchan in a cameo saying, “In America there is Superman, Batman and Spiderman, in India there is PadMan.” Is that the best dialogue in the film? My money’s on Akshay Kumar’s, “Women strong, mother strong, sister strong, then country strong.”