Padman is the story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, a metalworker from Coimbatore who made history by making low cost sanitary pads for women. What began as a way to make life better for his beloved wife, who had been using dirty cloth during menstrual cycle like so many other women in his village, not only gave way to a huge revolution which brought down social stigma surrounding menstruation but also made menstrual hygiene accessible to thousands of women in rural India at very cheap rates (almost a third of what the multinational-brands cost). What’s more applaud-worthy is that Mr. Arunachalam refused many multinationals’ offers to buy his brainchild, because then the cost per pad would only increase, thereby defeating the whole purpose.
This is one truly amazing story. If I had not read Twinkle Khanna’s The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad, of which the story of Mr. Arunachalam is a part, I would not have believed this was a true story. Also, some trivia: this is not the first time this story was adapted to the silver screen. Phullu (2017, Hindi) is the first film to show Mr. Arunachalam’s life. While I haven’t watched Phullu, Padman comes from a popular director, starring popular actors and basically, with a big scale and a vast reach. It’s good for the film and the cause as well.
The film has a thoroughly entertaining first half. Or should I rather say, “engaging”? Not a moment is wasted. The director, R Balki (known for the wonderful Paa and the highly hypocritical Ki & Ka) establishes the characters neatly and presents the issue at hand without much ado. The leading man’s obsession with jugaadu (if I may use the word) is established without doubt when he makes a simple onion-cutter so his wife doesn’t have tears in her eyes while chopping the onions. This is not a man who gives up.
The second half is mostly enjoyable too but its dullest moments come in the form of the love angle between Akshay and Sonam. Sonam is okay, but her character isn’t really developed to mature, hence lacks the depth needed. If I were the writer/director, this is where I would have taken the cinematic liberty to change the story a bit and not give as much importance to the romantic angle here. It took away, although briefly, the feel of the film in the second half. But, all’s well that ends well, they say, and it’s true of Padman too. I found myself clapping in the final moments of the film (and at two or three other places too, actually).
Akshay powers Padman to the place where it stands. I’ve read reviews that said Padman fell prey to the stardom of Akshay and this is evidently seen in how the film falls flat because of it, but I honestly do not subscribe to this argument. In fact, I think the film has benefited a lot from Akshay doing it and not, say, Salman or Shahrukh. This is not to take anything away from Akshay’s stardom or his performance, but I just couldn’t imagine any other “star” of the Hindi film industry doing squats after wearing a sanitary pad himself, checking his posterior now and then to see if his brainchild worked. Radhika Apte is magical, as always. Sonam has the least to do here and does exactly what she can.
On the downside, however, it’s really mention-worthy that Padman comes with its own share of contradictions. Amidst the talk about women empowerment and all that, we also get dialogues like, “A person who cannot protect women isn’t a man after all”. Sexist much? I am not saying Mr. Arunachalam wouldn’t have thought this way. It’s quite possible. But you can at least choose to edit these things out when making a film like this. Subjects like these deserve perfection.
So in the end, I definitely liked Padman. I personally think most reviews out there are harsher than necessary but hey, to each his own! I’m going with 3.75 out of 5!
PS: All the pictures are screenshots from the film’s official trailer on YouTube.