Movie Review: 'Pad Man'
Opened: 9 February 2018
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Apte, Sonam Kapoor, Sudhir Pandey, Maya Alagh, Amitabh Bachchan
Producers: Twinkle Khanna, SPE Films India, KriArj Entertainment
That time of the month. A perfectly natural and standard phenomenon in the day-to-day lives of women across the globe, and yet one that still has a huge stigma attached to it in households, both in rural and affluent across India. Certain religious beliefs go in so far as to forbid women from entering places of worship purely on the basis that they’re considered impure around that crucial time when their hormones are literally all over the place.
Special kudos then to Akshay Kumar, R.Balki and Twinkle Khanna who’ve attempted to shed light on a rather touchy topic in a film based on a book by Khanna herself, on true life events about a 2014 Padmashri winner, Arunachalam Muruganantham, a poor college dropout turned innovator from South India, who goes on to develop a machine that allows him to manufacture low cost, environmentally friendly menstrual pads himself upon discovering that his wife had to use dirty rags during her period because they can't afford sanitary napkins.
The story has been tweaked slightly and instead here the plot unfolds in rural Indore, where Lakshmi (Kumar), a weldor lives with his naive wife (Radhika Apte) as the breadwinner of a house solely comprising of women. Like the true-to-life story of Muruganantham, he becomes obsessed with his wife’s wellbeing when he uncovers her using a dirty rag in place of an unaffordable sanitary pad, and goes about trying to create his own version of one, much to the dismay of his neighbours, his family and the rest of the village.
After a series of failed attempts which see him ridiculed and subsequently force him to leave the village altogether, a chance encounter with a Delhi based MBA student (Sonam Kapoor), unravels a series of events which turn him into something of a phenomenon overnight, leading to a bittersweet finale, which slightly misses the mark, but definitely hammers across that it's pointless to tiptoe around something so natural, and that something substantial needs to be done about it, to broaden its awareness across a largely orthodox society, if nothing else.
Pad Man is a refreshing and candid film, that addresses a pertinent topic responsibly, but perhaps where it stumbles a little is making a martyr out of Kumar, at the expense of other character arcs that could have definitely done with a lot more meat. Having said that, Kumar is a revelation, embodying the part with a flair and sincerity that has come to the fore especially in recent years with his diverse choice of films and roles. He is especially stellar in the film’s climax where he delivers a sermon in broken English to rapturous applause. To be fair, it isn’t to the detriment of his immediate co-stars though. Apte is something of a scene-stealer in her part which is stripped off all glamour, and could have easily become a caricature, had she not infused her character with equal amounts of depth, love, frustration and devotion. And her chemistry with Kumar has an inexplicable relish and believability to it only adding to its appeal. Similarly Kapoor, who appears well into the second half, makes the most of her elegant, urban Samaritan hellbent on raising awareness of Lakshmi’s ground-breaking invention and being his pillar of support during his tougher times. It’s not a showy part by any means and completely in contrast to anything she's done in the past but she peppers it with just the right amount of warmth, even if it is a role that’s not too far off of her real life persona.
It’s not all smooth sailing though. The film is unnecessarily stretched, and ironically, after a point, the advantages of the uses of sanitary napkins really begin to wear thin, however noble the film is in its intent. And after a point you really begin to question how many real-life ‘superheroes’ Kumar will recycle, before the template begins to stagnate.
Still Pad Man has its heart in the right place and has the distinction of being that well intended venture that entertains and educates in equal measures, and like it or not, because of its subject matter and its warm, likeable performances, it will be a film that will talked about for years. Three and a half cheers from me for Pad Man then – it gets extra brownie points for daring to think outside the box and attempting to challenge an archaic mindset.