I have a friend who is as modern a girl as any of this time and era can be. During a visit to her house, I requested her for a glass of the sumptuous drink that she makes and which I desperately crave for during summers. But on that day, my request met with a blunt refusal. Just so that I didn’t misunderstand her intent, she whispered to me that it was her “that time of the month” and she was not allowed into the kitchen. I was baffled by this revelation as she was the last person that I would have expected to be a clog in the taboo machine. The same reason cropped up when she refused to visit a temple with me on a day that marked a major success for me.
I am from Assam and here every year, we observe the “Ambubachi Mela”, a week-long celebration and religious pilgrimage marking the completion of the annual menstrual cycle of Maa Kamakhya. The temple is opened to the public after remaining closed for 3 days who by then would have stood in lines spanning kilometers for those days just to enter the Shaktisthal of the Maa and get a shred of the cloth that is put as a cover on the Shaktisthal and is moist with the water that is symbolic of the procreated fluid during the cycle.
Every time I think of these two incidents side by side, I am perplexed at the amount of hypocrisy that we have learned to live with. Akshay Kumar’s Padman is a resounding scream at this very status quo and the helplessness that is associated with it. While I could very much associate with the feelings and disgusts of Akshay Kumar’s character (even though I never really tried anything nearly as audacious and brave that he does), I did raise my voice a few times only to be silenced with clinical ease.
Padman is a fictional story based on the life and work of social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham. Lakshmikant Chauhan (Akshay Kumar) sets out to make sanitary pads for his wife after he realizes the risks involved in her unhygienic practices during her periods. However, he is unable to make it right and his wife discards it altogether. Lakshmi’s every subsequent effort to rectify the pads and make them how they should be is met with greater disdain by his family, his wife and the village as a whole.
As time passes, he realizes the sheer reach of the problem as every menstruating woman in his village is at the same level of risk as his own wife. However, his efforts to tend to their issues is lambasted by the villagers as he is labeled as a lech, impure and plain out crazy. Lakshmi loses his wife, his family, and his honor in the process. Desperate to get back what he has lost, he sets out on a journey that would lay the foundation for a revolutionary tech that would not only show him for what he is but also aid hundreds of women across the country.
Padman is an intriguing and investing film that is relentless from start to finish. There wasn’t a single second in the film when I was not transfixed to the screen. Even though the songs, the story moves from point a to b. It has to be agreed that the unbelievable true story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, that forms the basis of this narrative, is in itself was nothing short of being a thrilling adventure but I have seen good stories being wasted by lackluster treatment in the past. Hence we have to give due credit to the writers R. Balki (who also directs) and Swanand Kirkire for condensing a story that spans years into a tale that is as expansive as it is accessible.
The next best thing about the film is obviously Akshay Kumar’s stellar performance. His essay not only lets us feel for the man but also successfully brings to the fore the frustration and disbelief of the man on a society that would just not understand his predicament. His performance only gets stronger with every scene. To top it all up, we have that speech in the UN that we have all seen glimpses off in the trailers. Kumar is natural and affecting. Sonam Kapoor has a brief but important role. I never thought that I would ever write this but with her arrival, the proceedings light up towards the end. She has a commanding screen presence and just the fact that she is able to hold her own in the presence of a powerhouse performer like Akshay Kumar is saying a lot about her essay.
Radhika Apte is wonderful as ever. The manner in which she transforms into a village belle is surreal. Never for a second, I disbelieved her character and that really helps to make the story that much more affecting. There are subtle nudges here and there that go a long way into making her character real. The manner in which she hides the piece of cloth she uses during that time, that brief sequence when she is shown sitting on the bicycle before Lakshmi re-fits it with a wooden seat, the way she shows her embarrassment every time Lakshmi tries to bring up the issue and numerous more such sequences add up to lend authenticity to her essay.
Padman is an extremely relevant and important film for our times. It tackles an extremely important and sensitive issue with such care and vigor that you walk out of the film with important lessons learned in the most entertaining way possible. Not only does it question the taboo and splashes a glass of water on the face of the naivety of the status quo but also shows us how easily the very same problem can be solved with a little care and a little broad-mindedness. Kudos to the entire team of Padman for finally making a film on this subject. It should have seen the light of the day years before. A must watch.