Film Review: Padman
Writer & Director: R. Balki
Producer: Twinkle Khanna
Rating: Three and a half stars
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Apte, Sonam Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan ( guest appearance).
At a time when we should be celebrating the achievements of women in society who battle against all odds in both urban India or rural countryside, it is a human tragedy that we are nurturing prejudices on something as natural as menstruation. Women cutting across social class face enormous discrimination when it comes to periods on the part of so-called learned religious scholars, families or obsolete patriarchal norms that reingineer guilt and shame to a unique human biological aspect.
R Balki’s Padman not only carries a powerful message to chuck out all prejudices about menstruation but also seek to educate the masses that there is no shame, guilt or ostracization for women to go through this cycle and in using sanitary pads. The film surprisingly starts at a slow pace but more than the narrative, it is the inherently strong message sent by the maker and the lead actors which successfully makes the cut. In short, the real star in Padman is the message conveyed to flush out social ostracization in celebrating a woman in her unique firm which makes the film a winner.
There is no denying the fact that in stark villages and even cities for that matter, women going through menstruation suffers a huge deal of discrimination and are regarded as dirty. Akshay Kumar plays the real-life hero, Arunachalam Muruganantham the man credited for making low-cost sanitary pads for women and quite surprisingly, the star underplays himself in this natural act and at no point, he tries to rise above the script. He slips easily into the role of the village bumpkin and large-hearted man with utmost ease shining in several scenes, helmed expertly by R Balki. As Lakshmikant Chauhan, Akshay Kumar portrays a sensitive man who loves his wife Gayatri dearly but is also sensitive to the cause of women.
I have always believed that among the young crop of actors, Radhika Apte is one of the finest we have in the Indian film industry and as Gayatri, she is simply terrific playing the conservative ‘village belle’ who is ashamed to use a healthy pad at the cost of her health because ‘auraton ke liye sabse badi beemari hai sharam.’ As Gayatri, Radhika lends credence to the character and dons the submissive, naive women to perfection who has one argument to thwart her husband’s effort, ‘You don’t interfere in women’s matters.’ Given that she has relatively few scenes in the movie, Radhika holds her own forte and sparkles in several emotional scenes and particularly the ones where she breaks down.
Sonam Kapoor makes an entry post-interval where she plays the modern, chic and urban Delhi girl with perfection injecting freshness in the film. She simply owns every frame in donning a character so close to what she probably is in real life and does full justice to it. Sonam gets the best lines and gives a fitting reply to Akshay Kumar in every scene. It’s her best performance after the hard-hitting and memorable Neerja. So many of us will be fida over Sonam.
Stand out scenes:
There are several stand out scenes in Padman, particularly the ones where Akshay Kumar speaking in an accent-laden with broken English during the UN speech in America or the instance when he explains the sanitary pad machine to visitors through both sign language and broken English. Secondly, the scene where he wears a pink female underwear, a risk that very few actors with his superstar status would be willing to take and attaching an animal blood pouch, not only touches hearts but packs a punch.
The romance between Akshay Kumar and Sonam Kapoor was unnecessary and hard to imagine someone of the calibre of R. Balki to indulge in such a cliche. It is not only forced but works against the film’s spirit. Of course, there are several moments in the narration which is slow and tedious, particularly the start and post interval moments that make the flick, at times, look like a documentary.
R. Balki’s Padman is an honest effort in portraying the sensitive issue of menstrual health and tackling shame or nurtured prejudices that women are subject to in our society. The director has successfully pulled all strings together in weaving the thought-provoking message, beautifully marrying reality and mass entertainment as well as extracting brilliant performances from its lead cast. Of course, the maker pays a fitting tribute to Amitabh Bachchan in the cameo where he not only plays himself but lends dignity and charm. The megastar is debonair personified. The cameo fits beautifully with the film’s theme. Padman is a must watch and should be lauded as a very honest effort in creating awareness, educate and break the taboo on this sensitive issue that afflicts women.