By Neeraj Nanda
MELBOURNE, 8 February: In a nutshell, Padman is the story of a mechanic (Akshay Kumar) who invents affordable sanitary pads and tries to influence his wife (Radhika Apte) and his two sisters to use them but is shunned by them as the taboo product clashes with their conservative cultural values. He pushes his vision of women’s hygiene (mensural periods) with his product through others but faces hurdles and his marriage get estranged. The second half (after the intermission) shows his struggle to make the product as a cottage industry with cheap technology and make it a mass product. He is finally recognised with the help of a Delhi girl (Sonam Kapoor) who joins his mission. The end is happy with the product (Pari) moving ahead and Akshay Kumar addressed as the Padman.
This rather unusual but educational movie sets the tone to confront a culturally sensitive subject of a woman’s mensural cycle, its consequences and to be hygienic in those days (five) in a typical fast forward Bollywood style script. The movie starts and does not slow down till Akshay Kumar’s mission is successful and he is honoured with a ‘Padam Shri’.
No doubt, Padman breaks the barrier of a taboo subject and brings it into public domain but is this enough to liberate women in a country where child marriages, teenage pregnancies, sexual harassment at workplace, plight of widows, prostitution, female infanticide and honour killings are reported daily. Women’s hygiene (mensural or other) is firmly connected to one’s socio-economic status. A woman in a poor family struggles for the basics of life. How much can she spend on branded stuff during her mensural cycle? It is here Padman’s message of affordable sanitary pads is relevant.
Akshay Kumar acts in his typical style but age seems to be catching up with him. Radhika Apte’s acting is mature and composed. Sonam Kapoor steals the show as the happy go lucky girl helping out Akshay. The locations of Maheshwar, a town in the Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh, 90 km from Indore are beautiful and give a rustic feeling.
Wish Akshay Kumar’s speech at the United Nations was shorter. The movie tells us there are only 12 m women in rural India with hygienic protection during mensural periods. But, in his speech, Amitabh Bachchan (guest role) says this figure is 18 m. Not sure which statistic is correct. Sonam Kapoor’s infatuation (or love) for Akshay does not fit well. Feel tighter editing could have cut the movie’s unnecessary length.
The Padman story is based on Twinkle Khanna’s book on the real life experiences of Arunachalam Muruganantham and his mission. A documentary on his life ‘Menstrual Man’ by Amit Virmani has won many accolades.
Despite shortcomings this is a different movie (in the Mumbai style) with a positive message. It’s relevance for India is enormous. Health issues are important for both women and men. It is this sector which is getting more and more privatised. Medical and health products have become quite expensive. One wonders those only perusing health goals for profits will accept Akshay Kumar’s message?
I give Padman three out of five stars.