Pad Man Review

Mixing the real (the story of Arunachalam Muruganantham from the South) with the reel in perfect proportions, writer-director R. Balki spins out a heartwarming, emotionally rich saga of a poor, uneducated man named Lakshmikant Chauhan (Akshay Kumar) who will do everything to make his loved ones’ lives better. (Akshay Kumar/Twitter photo)

Mrs Funnybones Movies, Sony Pictures, KriArj Entertainment, Hope Productions & Cape of Good Films present “Pad Man.”

Produced by: Twinkle Khanna, Sony Pictures, KriArj Entertainment, Hope Productions & Cape of Good Films

Directed by: R. Balki

Written by: R. Balki, Swanand Kirkire & Twinkle Khanna

Music: Amit Trivedi

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Sonam Kapoor, Radhika Apte, Sunil Sinha, Jyoti Subhash, Soumya Vyas, Parul Chouhan, Mrinmayee Godbole, Umesh Damle,

Sanjay Singh, Abhimanyu Sarkar, Yogesh Shreekant Pandey, Master Wahib Kapadia & others

MUMBAI—His name is Lakshmikant Chauhan (Akshay Kumar), and he lives with his mother (Jyoti Subhash), newlywed wife Gayatri (Radhika Apte) and two younger sisters (Soumya Vyas and Parul Chouhan) in the village of Maheshwar in Madhya Pradesh.

He soon finds that his wife, when she gets her menstrual periods, uses a soiled rag in place of something hygienic to absorb the blood. Finding that the normal pads are too expensive and rejected by his wife for that reason (after he buys one pack for her), he investigates the content of a pad and finds that he can fashion something like that himself from cotton and muslin. It does not work, though his wife tries it out.

A welder who gives great importance to his senior’s advice to other workers (“What you do should be right and not just LOOK right”), Lakshmi tries to keep “improving” upon his product but fails miserably, and soon becomes not only the laughing stock of the traditional village but is also accused of being a disgusting moral pervert.

Though Gayatri loves him, she is also very traditional in her mindset and finally has to leave him under pressure from her family. She cannot forget how Lakshmi did all this because he cared for her health, and this contrast is especially glaring when she finds how the men in her maternal home treat women. But she lives in the hope that one day, her husband will come back, rid of his fetish.

Shattered but not broken, Lakshmi leaves his town and manages to get to learn the basics about sanitary pads with the help of a young boy (Wahib Kapadia), who is his professor-employer’s son who introduces him to Google. But while Google provides him all information, the way forward is daunting – he has to get cellulose fiber, which is made in the USA, and the multi-crore machines that pulverize, shape, wrap and finally disinfect the formed pad.

A determined Lakshmi splits the duties into four simple Indian machines doing the job and comes out with a product that will cost only two rupees. Luck shines on him when his first pad goes by default to a smart musician Rhea (Sonam Kapoor) who is also studying. Rhea talks about the man to her father (Sunil Sinha) and the two help him participate in an innovation competition organized by the Indian Institute of Technology.

From here, his fortunes take an upward turn, but Lakshmi, who is also later invited by the United Nations, cannot forget that he has done this with his blood, sweat, and tears to help millions of poor women and not to make millions himself. Rhea is with him at every stage and soon falls in love with him. But when she realizes how he still pines for his estranged wife, and she for him, she knows which way to go.

Mixing the real (the story of Arunachalam Muruganantham from the South) with the reel in perfect proportions, writer-director R. Balki spins out a heartwarming, emotionally rich saga of a poor, uneducated man who will do everything to make his loved ones’ lives better, even if the lack of appreciation starts at home itself. The cultural ethos of Madhya Pradesh is enhanced by co-writer Swanand Kirkire, who hails from that region, and shape the more authentic nuances of the region.

Balki sharply focuses on the core issue of affordable menstrual hygiene and the destruction of age-old phobias, stigmas and misbeliefs associated with such a normal phenomenon as the monthly ‘periods.’ At the same time, he uses a superstar and a dramatized script (there was no counterpart of Rhea in Arunachalam’s life, for example) to spin an utterly riveting tale. The fictional and dramatic elements are thus used only to enhance the ‘Brightness and Contrast’ of the story and the ‘Sharpness’ of the audiovisual impact, to use Microsoft Photo Editor terminologies!

As is his norm, Balki cuts his film with effective brevity. But perhaps, the puberty song was not needed at all. Or maybe it was, to show the quant mores of a traditional populace that may celebrate the arrival of a girl’s first periods but then onwards treat her as a pariah for five days for life! But the repetitious tenor of some scenes featuring Lakshmi with his wife, family, and the villagers could have been trimmed – they drag a whit, but definitely do not jar.

The second half (always the more vital part of any film) is livelier, more dramatic, quite rapid-paced and elevating. Some sequences look simplistic, but by that time, it is difficult to judge whether they really happened or not. Lakshmi’s 11 minute-speech in the UN, shot in a long shot as per information, is nothing short of a masterpiece in concept and execution, though some colleagues I know ran it down for its supposed ‘filmi’ artifice.

In the olden days, Manmohan Desai (whose films were as different from “Pad Man” as, to use a relevant but crude parallel, a pad from a condom!) would ensure a series of highs in his script in scenes, songs and their comic, emotional or dramatic content and fill in the rest of the script.

Broadly, Balki seems to have superbly followed this concept here. From beginning to end, the script touches a series of high peaks joined by the connecting links – Lakshmi’s first talk with his wife about the cloth she uses that he will not employ even to clean his cycle, his visit to a chemist to buy pads, his fabricating a crude pad, his encounter with the village butcher, the sequence in which he tries out his own pad, the way he finally makes his first proper sanitary napkin, his subsequent activities and triumphs and his encounter with Rhea are among the tall spots other than Lakshmi’s U.N. speech. The parting sequence with Rhea in broken English is a succinctly conceived emotional sixer.

Towering and emphatically sincere – these are the ONLY terms to describe Akshay Kumar’s performance – he is simply, triumphantly extraordinary. Giving him great company in a brief role is Sonam Kapoor, who comes into her own especially in the U.N. sequence and later, but is a delight even otherwise. Radhika Apte is very convincing as Gayatri, but she has little to do.

The excellent supporting cast is led by Yogesh Shreekant Pandey as the butcher, Sunil Sinha as Rhea’s father, Jyoti Subhash as Lakshmi’s desperate and orthodox mother and Mrinmayee Godbole as his elder sister. Wahib Kapadia as the helpful child who paves the way for Lakshmi’s tryst with knowledge and opportunity is a natural.

P.C. Sreeram’s astounding camerawork and the low-key background music score (Amit Trivedi) complement the narrative. “Aaj Se Yeh Dil” is Trivedi’s only good song (with clever lyrics by Kausar Munir), though the title-track is alright while it lasts. A special pat is for Rupin Suchak’s stunningly authentic production design.

To sum up, Balki’s best directorial since his 2009 “Paa” remains a benchmark in how to make an entertainer with a vital social message. Despite its 2.20 duration, there is not a moment when the film does not keep you involved in what is going on.

Rating: ****1/2

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