Come women’s day on March 8th, men will celebrate the women in their life with flowers and chocolates... However, one ma, went beyond the cliché and taking a cue from his wife’s struggle, decided that he must celebrate womanhood by making their lives more comfortable, during their uncomfortable periods… and it is this man’s life that the Bollywood movie Padman celebrates and for good reason! Andrea Noronha watched the movie and has this to say…
To the urban viewer, Padman may seem like a movie far from necessary in our day and age. As an urban woman from this very period (pun intended), I can tell you that unfortunately, it still is…
I say this because some women still refuse to say the word “period” out loud and the very mention of the word makes others wince. Not only do we women have to deal with the discomfort and physical pain associated with this very natural phenomenon but, we also have to deal with the stigma that surrounds it.
With innumerable ads telling us how we should feel embarrassed any time there is any spillage and how we need to buy their particular spill free brand of pads to avoid this fiasco, it is not hard to see that there is still some taboo surrounding periods.
Living in an era of minimal privacy (considering how a shocking majority of us are okay with everyone knowing exactly where we are at any given moment and with displaying our lives on social media), I find it hard to wrap my head around how a woman’s menstrual cycle is still a topic of discomfort for men and women (for women more so, and in more ways than one).
Padman is the story of a man who would go to the moon and back to help ease the lives of those around him, especially the women in his life. From the very first frame of the movie, we are shown how Lakshmikant "Lakshmi" Chauhan (Akshay Kumar) tries to make life easier for his wife Gayatri (Radhika Apte). Lakshmi’s concern is not limited to his wife however, as we see how he treats other women in his family and in his locality.
Trouble starts to brew when Lakshmi sees his wife using a piece of dirty cloth during her menstruation cycle and decides to take a stand against the unsanitary practices of women during this time. Their use of pieces of cloth, ash and leaves, and their practice of sleeping in a separate room outside the house causes him grave concern and he takes steps to solve the problem.
Seeing that the sanitary pads available in the market are way too expensive for the poor to afford, he decides to make one that is cheap and cost effective. What starts out as a project to help his wife soon becomes an obsession and becomes much bigger than his desire to help his wife. In the process of pursuing this noble mission, Lakshmi loses not just the favour of his family and village, but also that of his wife.
The saying “no good deed goes unpunished” takes on a life of its own in this movie as we see how one man puts everything on the line to help others, only to be let down by the very people he is trying to help.
Along comes Pari Walia (Sonam Kapoor), the bubbly and confident urban girl and tabla player. Becoming Lakshmi’s first “grahak”, she soon becomes his compatriot and helps him attain his goal.
Once Lakshmi’s efforts and achievements are recognized all over the world, he is finally welcomed back to his hometown and we see a change in the practices in the women during their periods.
The movie is a feel good story about a man’s genuine concern for the health and safety of women, and his fight to rid his hometown of the “taboo” surrounding a woman’s “chums”. The story of his struggles and his triumphs is relatable since it is (for the most part) the story of the “every day man”.
The characters and the relationship between them has been fleshed out well and is quite believable. Even though you may not agree with the behavior of certain characters, you do understand where they come from and their motivations. The actors played their roles perfectly and gave their best.
The music and some of the songs are pretty catchy. The title song is playing in my head as I type this review, and it has been a few days since I’ve watched the movie.
The movie is also not derogatory in any way. With most movies that have a message driven plot, the “hero” talks down to those in the wrong. You don’t see any of that happening here. There is no scene where the “hero”, surrounded by angry villagers foaming at the mouth, looking to tear into the “offender”, starts to spew words of wisdom and preaches to the masses in one long overly dramatic monologue. There is no scene where the “hero” gives a “mike drop” speech and walks into the distance with his lady love. There certainly is no scene in the movie, where everything is solved with a powerfully worded speech. Every step forward is well earned and is based on hard work and actions, and not all of the “hero’s” efforts are rewarded with a positive behavior- as would happen when you are on a crusade to change people’s mentality.
The humour is mostly spot on and this is due to the comedic timing. Some of the jokes however, fall flat in some places. Lakshmi’s banter with the chemist is a good example of some of the funny dialogues in the movie. His back and forth with Pari is also quite enjoyable. Even though she only has an extended cameo role and appears in the latter half of the movie, Kapoor brings her natural charm and charisma to the screen and lights it up.
The movie brings out the innocence and naiveté of the villagers without making them look stupid which makes them more relatable.
The very fact that the movie showed actual blood (well not actual but, you get my point) being used to test the pads and the blood seeping through Lakshmi’s pants, deserves a thumbs up. If the movie trying to remove some of the stigma surrounding periods refuses to show any blood in it, it would be counterproductive.
Some of the dialogue in the movie comes off a tad bit preachy. One can’t fault the movie for trying to drop some knowledge on its audience but, I feel it could have been handled better- like the scene when the doctor speaks about the illnesses caused by the use of unsanitary items during periods. This particular scene looks and sounds like it was taken directly out of a public service announcement video and spliced into the film reel. Some of the dialogue of the villagers also seems lacking- like that of the conversation between the boys playing cricket in the alley, which seemed a little forced and unnatural.
One thing I found odd about the movie was the use of Lakshmi’s boss as a plot device. It almost feels like his character was created to just to move the plot forward through the use of flashbacks. As I watch a lot of anime, I am reminded of scenes from my favourite shows that use similar methods to move a plot forward. Need motivation? Flash back to the mentor lecturing the student. Forgot something? Flashback to someone telling the protagonist something important, or something happening. Need to figure something out? Flashback to someone saying something that has magical relevance to the protagonist’s current scenario… Maybe they felt that having a fairy Godmother would be too on the nose.
I’m not saying “never use flashbacks”; My view is one flashback per movie is more than enough.
Radhika Apte’s portrayal of Gayathri is quite commendable. She did well with what was given to her. Unfortunately, most of what was given to her called for quite a lot of water works. Gayathri was constantly facing some kind of trouble or frustration and had a perpetually haggard look on her face. Fault lies in the script and not the actor.
The introduction of Pari Walia… perhaps the movie could have done without this character. When she is first introduced to us, Pari is giving a Tabla recital on stage. This part of her life is alluded to once more and is then promptly forgotten. Even when Pari talks about her ambitions with her father, she never once mentions her musical aspirations. Maybe she could have just been a passerby or a traveller in urgent need of a sanitary pad?
Speaking of Pari, the romance that blooms between her and Lakshmi felt very unnecessary. The chemistry was there and it did not feel forced but, can’t a man and a woman just be friends? The addition of this romance seemed out of left field and sort of cheapened the last act of the movie.
Amitabh Bachchan has a cameo role… Seemed weird…but added charm to the movie.
Padman isn’t ground breaking in any sense of the word but, it is definitely one of a kind. It is a must watch, simply because it needs to reach as many people as possible so that they can learn something and be entertained at the same time.
This movie manages to convey the message of the plot with humour and drama. The movie is a good social commentary on the difficulties faced by rural women. It has given us an opening to start a dialogue about the hygiene needs of rural women. Hopefully, this movie will do more than just earn the makers some dough.
As flawed as it is, the movie has a lot of redeeming qualities. In some ways, this is the story of an ordinary person. All of us have dreams and ambitions. All of us face adversities and humiliation at some point in our lives. This makes the movie more relatable and makes it easier for the audience to empathise with the characters.
Padman is a breath of fresh air and is a hundred times better than the exceptional garbage churned out by Bollywood these days.
The real “Padman”
For those who have been living under a rock for the last (nearly) 20 years, you might be surprised to know that “Padman” is based on the real life story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, a social entrepreneur from Tamil Nadu. He is well known for inventing a low cost pad making machine. His machine can make sanitary pads at a fraction of the cost of commercially produced sanitary pads.
Muruganantham first decided to make his own sanitary napkins after he saw his wife (Shanthi) steal a piece of dirty cloth into the bathroom and later found out that she used is during her periods. He was shocked to hear this as he considered the cloth too dirty to even clean his scooter.
Assuming that the sanitary napkins were made of cotton, his prototype was made of the very same material wrapped in medical cloth. When his wife told him that his pad was useless, he approached the women at a medical college for more reliable feedback. When he found two of the girls filling out the feedback forms he had made, he ditched this line of research.
Muruganantham then began using the napkin on himself and even used a football bladder filled with goat’s blood to simulate menstruation to test his pads. When even this failed, as a Hail Mary, he approached the girls at the medical college and asked them to give him a packet of their used sanitary pads. After studying these napkins, he realized that the commercially produced pads were using cellulose and not cotton.
After some more research about the product and the machine used to make these products, Muruganantham decided to make his own machine, one that was small enough to fit in a room’s space. With his machine built and the cellulose sheets imported from the US, he began producing his revolutionary low cost sanitary napkins for the rural women of India.
Now, Muruganantham’s machines are present in over 200 districts of the country. He promotes his machines only through women’s cooperatives as he said in an interview with Firstpost, “The idea is not only to make money but to bring about attitudinal change.”
All over the country, Muruganantham’s shops are run by women, right from the production of the pads to their marketing and selling. The shops provide women with employment and make them self-sufficient and empowered.
The moral of the story here is not that women need a man to champion for them or fight for their causes and make their lives easier, but that those who do work for the empowerment of women (be they men or women) should be respected for their work.