Arunachalam Muruganantham, a school drop-out from a small village in Tamil Nadu, invented the machine to manufacture sanitary pads at a fraction of the cost of branded ones. This allowed thousands of women in rural India, where menstrual hygiene is abysmally low, access to a safe and healthy option. The story of an Indian metalworker who devised a low-cost method of producing sanitary pads makes a compelling biopic.
Which also means it was only a matter of time before Bollywood, recently acquainted with the power of real-life stories, decided to turn Muruganantham’s tale into another weekend blockbuster. Director R. Balki sets his film in Madhya Pradesh to appeal to a Hindi-speaking audience, sprinkles a few songs and inserts a love triangle of sorts to give it a Bollywood make-over.
Akshay Kumar plays ‘Padman’ aka Lakshmikant Chauhan, who lives with his wife, widowed mother and two sisters in a small village. Appalled to see his new bride using grimy rags during her menstrual cycle, Chauhan decides he must find a way to make life easier for her. Sanitary napkins are expensive so he starts making his own by using cotton, plastic sheets and soft cloth.But his experiments don’t go down too well with his wife and family, for whom talking about menstruation is taboo.
In a society where women prioritise their family over themselves, hygiene and safety are subjects that are never spoken about by women, let alone by men. But Chauhan has dogged in his pursuit and blind to the horror that the women of the family feel about his endeavour. Radhika Apte as his wife and Sonam Kapoor deliver likeable and heartfelt performances.
It is to Akshay Kumar’s credit that he makes Chauhan seem docile and mild, yet strong-willed enough to go where no Indian man has dared to venture. He is in every scene, and the honesty and sincerity with which he plays this character shine through, thus rubbing out some of the contrivances that are inherent in the script. The dialogue is littered with one-liners, but as is the case with all of Balki’s films, it takes a special appearance by Amitabh Bachchan to deliver the film’s real punchline: “The rest of the world has Superman and Batman, but we have Padman”.
The movie has its flaws, the editing could have been crisp and tighter, music could have gelled into the screenplay better, but Pad Man has a powerful message and should be watched by all in contemporary times as it helps us understand society and social issues better.