Padman: Cause or Commerce

February 13, 2018 , 0 Comments

What: Movie Review and Musings
Film: Padman
Starring: Radhika Apte, Akshay Kumar, Sonam Kapoor
Language: Hindi
Year of Release: 2018

Disclaimer: This is not Just a Movie Review

Why I Was Not Excited About Padman!

To begin with, I was not happy when I heard that Akshay Kumar and team is making a film called Padman. While the subject is close to my heart, my biggest contention was the fact that Akshay Kumar was making this film and not Aamir Khan. 

But naturally, I was not too happy with Mr. Kumar's previous OTT stints viz- Toilet [too below my expectations], Airlift, Rustom [loosely inspired from Yeh Raaste hai Pyar ke starring legendary Suni Datt] Jolly LLB 2 wherein the causes were trodden beneath the star worshiping Bollywood commercial story-telling. I almost felt that Padman would be another point the case. But thankfully, it isn't, at least completely.

I know that commercial viability is important for producers and the movie makers to meet their expenses, fuel the economic activity and make justice to the hard work that goes behind making a film. However, I am totally uncomfortable with the idea of championing social cause through box office cash registers or a probable PR positioning.  Alliteration but no allegation here. I am however very glad that someone had made this film, giving it a fair treatment, a larger podium that the subject deserves.

Needless to say, I liked watching Padman. 

I watched the film with low expectations and a critical bent of mind and still liked it. To me, commerce aside, it is an important pebble in the ocean. Like I mentioned, the subject is close to my heart and I have many narratives[incl experiences] of rich, poor, city, small town, school etc to share, which I keep on sharing on my blogs and, will continue to do more. 

Right now, let's talk about the film.

What I Liked in Padman!

1) A Right Start: The movie started with Laksmikant's marriage, giving a quick glance to the setting in a hummable song, and moves towards the subject, seamlessly. Thankfully no cheapo/embarrassing moments like "ex-affair in kheto wala" scene [ref toilet] or lifting the Khaled's Didi or done to the death "Amitabh Bachchan's narrative". 

So the first impression is set, comfortably and quickly. Thank You for saving us from all the unnecessary foo-fraw. 

2) An interesting and Fresh cast:  All the characters in the film looked new and added to the story including Lakshmi's mother to the medical college students to Radhika Apte who so looks/talks like her timid wife character, to the doctor, butcher, everyone else in the film.

For a story as fresh as this, getting a cast without bringing any stereotypes as attached to many artists is imperative. I would not deny the presence of Big names like Akshay Kumar [a little better than his usual stereotypical portrayals] and Sonam Kapoor as you may need some bigger names to bring more audience to the theatre and the cause. Heard of Phullu anyone? Ok, so how many of you heard and yet watched it?

Whether they fit the bill perfectly or not is a different discussion and we shall hark on that soon.

3) The Strong Subject: Menstrual Hygiene and the Taboo attached with it is a big slap to our cellular civilization wherein we are ok to sleep with our bacteria infused cellphones, take them to our dining tables to Prayer rooms but banish menstruating women as if she is menstruating from her hands and fingers, threatening all your physical and spiritual practices.

A lot of us may not understand as we are blessed with accommodating families like ours who do not treat menstruation as an outcast but breaches barbaric belief to practice larger inclusiveness. Films like these are not just celebration for all those empathies but a tool for creating awareness around this sensitive issue, even in the garb of commerce. The movie was quite sensibly made.

If Bollywood's hunger for Biopics can help drive a cause like this, so be it. I prefer to see the story of the real Arunachalam over many other Superhero of the fragmented world.

4) A point in case Screenplay: The movie thankfully is not superficial but has its own share of surrogated reality. It has various scenes that will touch your chords just right. Right from the beginning when he does not let his limited financial means to give her a better life. He uses his sensibilities and skill to refurbish an automatic chopping board or that cycle seat. These small innovations are the heart of India and I am glad that the movie highlights this. 

[Of yes, for a brief moment I wondered how come he never saw his mother/sisters chopping onions?]

Another scene where Lakshmi Kant insists the menstruating Gayatri to discard the "choot-achoot" banish mode and step inside the house, and all the scenes wherein he tries to convince her to start using the pad and stay away from the taboos related to the period, should be reckoned as part of mandatory education curriculum. 

There is another scene when he tries to help his sisters but everyone fails to understand him. The confrontation scene with his sister is so real and straight to the point. 

5) Intelligent Writing/ Execution: The subject could have run the risk of getting boring or one-sided, or preachy. 

Thankfully, the movie took an umbrella approach. It tried to explore different opinions wrt to the problem and probable solution seeking without losing the single-minded focus on the subject but exploring on the subject matter as the Protagonist attempts in an endeavor starting from trial and error method [Arunachalam M actually did it], failing miserably still not giving up even in face of ostracism, being morale down by a professor himself but emphasizing on the power of self learning, high cost of the machine, rather ideating, taking cues from things like swing, management based learning, puri-bhaji etc. 

Well, that was a perfect amalgamation of bringing the boons of "haves" and inspiration of "have-nots". For which the entire credit must go to the real Arunachalam M and his journey. For those who were not aware of him, have a great chance to learn it from this movie.

Allow me to share another favorite scene- was when Lakshmi Kant looks for right TG to get the feedback and those succinct inferences/ dialogues like-

"Dharam Dharmender ban ke marega""yeh toh golgappe se sharmati hai""kaash mein bhi koi baba hota, jo deta pooja kar kar pehenti""maasi aap 10 saal choti hoti toh madad leta"

6) Hitting on the Consumerism behind the sanitary pad: Believe me, this norm [over expensive Sanitary napkins, lower accessibility has to be challenged. Though the film does it subtly, I was glad to not see any endorsing brands in the films. 

Humbly, the cost is not always an issue but the beliefs are. In the movie, Lakshmi Kant cleverly questions his wife that when she can spend Rs 51 plus to offer coconut to a man-made caricature of God for an anticipation of moksha post life but cannot spend Rs 55 on sanitary a pad that can better her life? It was a clear sarcasm for all ppl who think spending on sanitary is futile.

ANOTHER slap on consumerism face was the exceeding cost of the sanitary napkin in India wherein the brands change the logo or packaging color from green to pink and push the cost to consumers. It was a missed opportunity which the film should have subtly covered without conveniently crediting all the cost to mere machine cost. Yes, Padman you could have done more here instead of that unnecessary love angle.

The Necessary and The Unnecessary Criticism 

To say that Padman was flawless, would be an exaggeration. However, the certain criticism going around this movie made me burst into the laughter. Thank God I did not read a certain review before watching the film. 

1) Sonam and The Tabla: Looks like a lot of people were looking to find faults in the movie hence they went seeking "how loosely Sonam Kapoor" played the Tabla in this movie. Like upper body intense moment, lower body moment missing and all those unnecessary technical aspects as if she played a tabla star in the film. To me, I think Sonam Kapoor played her part just well. Better than what she did in her other author-backed film- Neerja. 

Her angle, say a character in the film was a catalyst that helped Padman's vision see a funding and PR reality. Sure it would be great if they would have starred a fresh face here to ensure the streamlining of the story. But if you were Sonam Kapoor and would have asked to play this role, would you have said no? Well, I would not have said no but yes, what could be avoidable was the unnecessary love triangle between them esp the airport scene as that just unnecessarily drifts you from the entire pad concept of the film, taking away film's greater chance of bridging the glorious moment from the Un speech to the final climax.

I was looking at the intent, the content and the message the film was delivering and all you saw is how Sonam played Tabla and why she did not play it again in the film. come on?

2) Low on Bondage, High on Scenes: The film had no effort in establishing Lakshmikant's relation with his sisters but had some scenes that were unnecessary like how sister rob their brothers for rakhi and Bhai dooj. The fact that none of his sisters could understand him.

3) THE MOVIE IS BASED ON REAL LIFE STORY OF ARUNACHALAM M AND NOT TWINKLE KHANNA'S STORYBOOK: It bugged me to read/watch the reviews that suggested otherwise. Dear Critics, pl get your homework done.

The film is not a remake of Twinkle Khanna's book but is inspired by the real life story of Arunachalam Muruganatham. I have not read Twinkle' book but I have watched M's TedTalk video and apparently researched on him some years back say 2012-213 when inspired by his Tedtalk video, I wrote a blog on the issue and even won the first prize. That made me felt that there are people who feel equally emotional about this issue.

It would have been awesome if the man was credited at the beginning of the film Yes, I know someone paid for the right and production but the inspiration is one of its kind and comes handy when telling your viewers how real inspires reel and your magnanimity too.

4) The Speech at UN: It was a beautiful speech and had many bear-ance to the presentation that Arunachalam gave at TedTalks. I am sorry to say, you cannot compare it with "English vinglish" [dear critics, esp one with flummox English but lower research, get some facts rights before your broadcast] it was one of the biggest highlights of the film, a very crucial for the climax.

5) The Man in the Madhya Pradesh: One can see Akshay Kumar trying hard to come out of his usual character and be more of the Lakshmikant but, unlike what Aamir Khan did to Phogat's character in Dangal, was quite missing here. Even in his promotional events, I see that effort lacking from the actor's side. Missed opportunity Mr. Kumar.

On the contrary, it was Radhika Apte who did total justice to her Gayatri, in both- looks and mannerisms, absolutely blending with the story and the setting.

6) Unnecessary Love Angle and the kiss that was never there: You know what I meant. It was as futile to see as the various Instagram images of celebs holding a pad to promote the film. It was an interesting market strategy when Ekta Kapoor did it for something like "Beat pe Booty". Here it looks more like a poor caricature than leading a mass awareness.

Should have rather donated trucks of pads at remote areas in India or share the movie's substantial revenue towards such federation. That would be a more real and valuable marketing. Akin to the fact that my respect for Khiladi Kumar increased when I heard about his donation made to help farmers from committing suicide in Maharastra [via Mr. Nana Patekar, who I heavily respect for the same]

7) Missed Opportunity: The film with great production values and the chirpy writing of Mrs. Funnybones could have also dwelled in the importance of having a "within a family" conversation on the subject. It may be there subtly but not as apparent.

Numerounity's Overall Views: I saw this movie twice and none of them was a special screening that could color my views or make you think it was a paid plugging. However, I liked the movie in totality and happy with the fact that a subject like this was a part of a mainstream cinema.

Yes, this movie should be India's entry to the Oscars. As I believe it is not just an Indian drawback but many countries around the world need to empathize with this. 

Padman may be a commercial, critical strategy but its execution is upto the mark. If a senseless movie like Chennai Express can make crores, Padman is atleast largely coherent, logical and important.

Needless to say, I feel sorry for the audience in Pakistan wherein the film is banned. Tsch Tsch, I thought art was above politics.

My Rating: 4 stars for the subject, and a better treatment. (-1) for that unnecessary kissing scene and casting someone as popular or strong as Sonam Kapoor, only to diluted the subject matter towards the climax. The makers should ideally remove that clutter from future screenings to bring more validity to their intentions/work.

I would insist that everyone should watch this movie with their family, together or otherwise. 

Happy watching,
Ekta Khetan

PS: wrote this piece last Saturday, sorry for the delay. The author had some personal/ economic activity to fuel her expenses that sometimes delays her heartfelt writing. I am thankful at least this article saw day ka light. You can read it even in dark though :) Cheers!

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