‘Padman’: The Bare Minimum of the Newly-Woke Bollywood

by Priyanka Gulati – 

Inspired by the true story of Arunanchalam Muruganantham, and, in part, by Twinkle Khanna’s short story “The Sanitary Man from A Sacred Land,” ‘Padman’ seems an effortless blend of R. Balki and Akshay Kumar’s latest brand — a socially conscious film packaged in a Bollywood rom-com.

Kumar continues with the latest in a string of vaguely nationalistic ventures including ‘Airlift,’ ‘Rustom,’ ‘Toilet,’ and now ‘Padman.’ Kumar plays the role of a doting husband and small-time mechanic, Laxmikant Chauhan, living in Madhya Pradesh, who becomes extremely concerned about his wife’s menstrual hygiene when he finds the dirty rag she uses during her periods.

 

Just like Muruganantham, Laxmikant goes to the chemist to purchase sanitary napkins for his wife; amused when the shop-owner hands him the pads under the counter as if “charas or gaanja” and aghast at the 55-rupee price tag. His wife Gayatri, played by the incredibly talented Radhika Apte, is alarmed and embarrassed to be using such products and to speak to her husband about this “ladies’ problem.”

And thus the conflict is born. Chaudhary decides that he will make his own pads and continue providing comforts for his wife as he has before — by his own hand. Despite the embarrassment of his mother and sisters, Laxmikant persists in his creating and testing of the sanitary napkin, driving away his village his family and his loving Gayatri.

[Read Related: #BleedingLove: Persisting Past Monthly Period Pain —That S**t Hurts]

It’s a rather sweet and simple first half. The setting of the Narmada is a respite from the usual tropes of Haridwar-Ganga, and it lends itself to some quaint one-liners; calling someone a “dheele naade ka aadmi” or “Narmada ka kachua.” The scenery itself is beautiful, and the craft of the film is clear.

 

Kumar too shines in the role of a doting husband, attuned to the needs of his wife — whether it’s creating a machine that will slice onions and spare her tears, or installing a seat on his bike to make her ride smoother. Apte, however, is wasted in her role as Gayatri. Despite their very obvious chemistry, she’s given little else to do than weep into her hands.

As we proceed into the second half of the film, ‘Padman’ director R. Balki proceeds to lose the flow he’s managed to create. Despite following Muruganantham’s story faithfully — down to his discovery that it is, in fact, cellulose fiber and not cotton that makes up the pad — the second half of the film feels like it’s been entirely fueled by Balki’s imagination.

Akshay Kumar in ‘Padman.’ [Photo Source: Hope Productions]
Enter Sonam Kapoor as, well, Sonam Kapoor. Playing the role of Pari, Kapoor helps Laxmikant realize his dreams and create a business model that will finally bring him success. Along the way, she, too, realizes that she wants to throw away her chance at a six-figure salary (Doing what? Don’t ask, it apparently wasn’t important enough to explain) and her (incredibly fake) tabla-playing skills to join Laxmikant on a manic-pixie-dream girlesque social work trip that us Delhi girls can only dream of.

As if her jumka-clad, kurta and trouser ensemble wasn’t enough; Kapoor further indulged the Bollywood junkie in us by going ahead and falling in love with Laxmikant. She kisses him before he gives his U.N. speech (proclaiming “Ab main tumhare saath hoon” as she pushes him on stage), only to bravely swallow her ill-fated affections and book him a plane ticket back home to his wife, leaving her father to ask his tearful daughter the age-old: “Why didn’t you tell him how much you loved him?”

 

Kumar, to his credit, tries to play Laxmikant with all of Muruganantham’s innocence and tenacity, but still falls a little flat. While he succeeds in playing a husband and a man obsessed, Kumar’s rendition of the Muruganantham-inspired UN speech smacks of an attempt at a national award. While Muruganantham’s broken English commands respect and is the product of a self-taught man, Kumar’s — complete with a laughter track — feels like acting, too put-upon and too much a caricature. Still, our Khiladi has come a long way, and it’s clear that this subdued, revamped image will bring him much success.

At its core, Padman is a worthy attempt. It’s a typical R. Balki film complete with an Amitabh Bachchan cameo, in full form as the Incredible India brand ambassador. The film thrives on its subtleties; Apte tucking in Laxmikant’s shirt hurriedly before he cycles off to work, the women who come to own the machines Laxmikant builds, or one quick moment where we see Gayatri’s brother berating his wife; nothing is said or added but we can see Gayatri making the observation behind him, the contrast need not be highlighted.

 

It’s a shame, then, to see “Padman” fall prey to the same repeated statistics and unnecessary moral one-liners like “Mard hone ka asli maaza andar ki auraat jagane se aata hai” or “Ek aurat ki hifazat karne mein nakamayab insaan apne aapko mard kaise keh sakta ha.” Despite all it aims to do, the film and it’s characters still ascribe to the traditionalist mentality that underlines every Bollywood production and its rather disheartening to see Muruganantham’s real story reduced to a two second credit in the last frame.

For all its faults and flaws, I feel “Padman” was an honest endeavor. While I cannot miss the irony of a film on such an issue focusing so thoroughly on the lead hero, or can ignore the rather bizarre #PadmanChallenge that sprung up on Instagram during promotions, we must remember how important these steps are (even if they are the bare minimum). The conversation must begin somewhere, and for a country where only 12 percent of women use pads (as Balki does not stop reminding us), this un-nuanced starting point is as good as any.


priyanka gulatiPriyanka Gulati is a writer, Bollywood fanatic and hazelnut coffee lover. When she’s not swiping the burgundy lipsticks at Sephora she can be found starting unnecessary fights on Twitter. Follow her @gulattee.

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

‘The Romantics’: Revisiting the Legacy and Grandeur of Yash Chopra With Filmmaker Smriti Mundhra

The Romantics

If you are a South Asian, born in the ’80s or the early ’90s, chances are your ideas of love and romance are heavily influenced by Hindi films — that first gaze, the secret love notes, that accidental meeting somewhere in Europe, over-the-top gestures and dancing around trees. While reality may have been far from what was promised on reel, you still can’t stop pining over a hopeless romantic, with chocolate boy looks, chasing you across the earth and many universes; in the life here and the ones after. Somewhere deep down, you still dream of that possibility despite your husband sitting and sipping his morning coffee right next to you. And much of the credit for weaving this dreamland, that we can’t resist happily sliding into, goes to the legendary Yash Chopra. Award-winning filmmaker Smriti Mundhra’s docu-series, “The Romantics,” that released on Netflix on February 14, chronicles Chopra’s prolific career; offering an illuminating look into the highs and lows of his journey, his unblemished vision for Hindi cinema and sheer love for filmmaking. 

I wanted to look at Indian cinema through the lens of it being a major contributor to the global cinema canon and Yash Chopra seemed like the perfect lens to explore that because of the longevity of his career and the fact that he had worked across so many different genres. His films, for so many of us, defined what Hindi cinema is.

— Smriti Mundhra

As “The Romantics” unveils, in a mere episode — a challenging feat in itself — Chopra did experiment with multiple genres as a budding filmmaker, initially under the shadows of his elder brother B.R. Chopra. From the religiously sensitive “Dharamputra” and the trendsetting “Waqt” to the action-packed and iconic “Deewaar.” It wasn’t until later on in his career that he set a precedent for a Hindi film having a wholly romantic narrative; though “Waqt” did offer the perfect glimpse into what would go on to become Chopra’s cinematic imprint. And then came “Chandni” which ushered in a new era for Hindi cinema; defying the formulaic approach to box office success and making love stories the golden goose.

In the words of more than 30 famous faces, a host of archival videos and interviews, and personal anecdotes, audiences get an extensive insight into the life and career of Yash Chopra and the evolution of his vision through the business acumen and genius of his polar opposite son and a famous recluse, Aditya Chopra. “The Romantics” is not a fancy portrait of a legendary filmmaker but an exploration of what goes into making a successful film family and a path-breaking production house. As viewers, we not only get a peek into the making of a fantasy creator but also learn of the many failures, hurdles and uncertainties that the business of filmmaking comes packaged in, the impact of socio-political shifts on the kind of content being produced and demanded, and just how much control we have as an audience over the fate of the film and the filmmaker.

For both the uninitiated and fanatics, there are some interesting revelations like Shah Rukh Khan’s lifelong desire to become an action hero as opposed to a romantic one and the creative conflict between Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra on the sets of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge” — a project that, surprisingly, did not seem too promising to the latter. Mundhra penetrates deep into the family’s history and industry relationships evoking some really candid conversations; almost as if these celebs were eagerly waiting for their moment to speak. With one appraising interview after the other, it’s a panegyric that does border on being a tad tedious but there is enough depth and fodder in there to keep one hooked. Kudos to Mundhra for managing to achieve cohesion despite there being more than enough material to chew on. In the process of bringing this project to life, Mundhra also ends up achieving a number of milestones: one that the series features the last of actor Rishi Kapoor’s interviews and two, it brings Aditya Chopra, who, it appears, can talk a blue streak contrary to popular belief, to the front of the camera after almost two decades. The moment when he puts the nepotism debate to rest by referring to his brother’s catastrophic attempt at acting is quite the show-stealer.

 

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At some point during the four-episode series, you might question if it’s fair to credit the Yash Raj family for being the only real changemakers of the Hindi film industry and for picking up the baton to get Hindi cinema the global recognition that it has. But then there is no denying the Chopra clan’s body of work, their ability to understand what pleases the crowd and their commitment towards growth and progress amidst changing times and technology — Yash Raj Studios is in fact the only privately held and one of the biggest, state-of-the-art film studios in India. Chopra’s career and legacy are in no way under-lit that Mundhra can claim to throw new light on with “The Romantics.” But what she really has on offer here are sheer nostalgia, some fascinating discoveries and an ode to a cinephile and his art with a bit of fan service.

In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Mundhra discusses why it was so important for Chopra to be the subject of her docu-series, her own learnings during the series’ research and creative process and her accomplishment of getting Aditya Chopra to talk, and that too, at length.

By Nida Hasan

Editor by profession, writer by passion, and a mother 24/7, Nida is a member of Brown Girl Lifestyle's editing team … Read more ›