After watching Padman yesterday, I realize now that I have come to expect a lot from Akshay Kumar. Baby, Airlift, and Toilet notwithstanding. #Padman is that much-needed correction. An no, I’m not posting pictures with sanitary napkins. #NewWaveFeminism… It’s not for me.
Padman is a 2-hr sanitary napkin commercial. The difference is that for the first time ever, the model is a man and not a woman in white trousers gallumphing about like a newly freed filly.
By now hopefully everyone knows the film is based on Arunachalam Muruganathan’s story and well, the film sticks to the plot. From one side, at least, just as advised by Sonam Kapoor aka ‘Pari’ to Akshay Kumar, while giving him “pheedbak” on his product as his first customer to try on the pads manufactured in his make-shift factory.
In my pheedbak to R.Balki and Mrs. Funnybones, I have made a couple of notes:
That while AK tries to establish the “period” as something that’s not a disease, his motivation to get his wife to use the pads instead of her “ganda kapda” is his fear of her falling prey to some infection. “Jaan bhi jaa sakti hai“, the doctor says. I don’t know why AK’s’ wife Radhika Aapte never offered to simply change her “ganda kapda” for a “saaf” one.
That one also notices that Radhika Aapte was never meant to portray a woman who thinks to any extent. Her role is restricted to offering up her husband’s hard-earned monies at mechanically operated Lord Hanuman statues and collecting the due prasad and sobbing copiously from time to time. The stigma and shame around periods seem to be the central theme of her life: She chums, her husband fumes. Her husband makes a pad, she fumes because hubby wouldn’t let go of his “obsession” that she herself finds shameful. Repeat and rinse. The “shame” part is never truly fleshed out.
That the point to note is: Ms. Aapte’s Gayatri stands out in the crowd with her bright matte top-of-the-range lip colours. I was hoping to find a more villagey palette there: a glossy burnt-to-the-crisp dark brown or a bloodthirsty glossy red. But, the fact that I’m looking for THIS much detailing itself becomes my way of paying a compliment to a Bollywood film.
Which is all okay. Fancy stuff. Now for some serious stuff.
THAT a major opportunity is missed:
AK also has two younger sisters who are attending school. But the stigma again gets the better of more enlightened behaviour, which is to use pads.
MISSING rather painfully in this rona-dhona and hai-hai is the educative process to address the taboo itself. It is much-needed if this film were to be considered a serious attempt at wiping out the stains of ignorance: Why women menstruate and why it’s a completely natural process and why it shouldn’t be seen as shameful. Why it’s not about “purity”. Why they were secluded in the days of yore. ETC. A cultural, traditional perpective that populated Toilet Ek Prem Katha is truly missing when it could have easily been allowed to take the place of this nose-blowing hysteria. Because, you know what? The man AK is telling you to let go of the taboo so just do it already.
A moment of irony is how song & dance fanfare marks the “coming of age” of a young girl who starts menstruating, the last time anyone views her “situation” with any joy or respect let alone understanding and compassion. Except AK, that goes without saying, of course.
That is a moment of cultural examination which I myself noted in our family at a much younger age: traditionally, we cook a sweet on the day a girl starts menstruating. There was no song & dance, however. Meh. Moving on.
On Big B, since he’s usually the “apparence speciale” in all of R.Balki’s creative ventures, I have only this to say: his little speech as the guest of honour at the national innovation… at IIT, Delhi, was flimsy to say the least, more jingoism than substance. He waxed eloquent on “Indian innovation” as it so happens, without the filmmaker realising that most Indian innovations are all about taking a Western innovation and readjusting on the cost front. Finally, let’s also remember that Indian innovation has a parallel term called “jugaad” and as far as its merits are concerned, the jury is still out. No offence, innovators, and I love my country, of course.
So anyway, Sonam does a good job overall of playing a young girl who changes the world. Nothing to see here.
And now, for my conspiracy theories regarding the coming of this film:
The developing countries are quickly winding down on the “Sanitary napkin” saga and replacing it with their version of “Ganda Kapda” or “resuable pads”. Yes, unbelievably so, just like most things traditional, the “kapda” pads are making a COMEBACK in the first world. And we, in our third world hysteria for development, will take our time to see this. Just like namakwala toothpaste, neemwala facewash and more.
There’s also a new innovation in the developed world: the silicone menstruation cup which you buy once and, according to a certain ad, re-use for 10 years. The reason being, sanitary napkins are an environmental disaster as well as a public health one. If you think about it, the research on what happens after the disposal of a pad is certainly worthy of a sequel, or a documentary, which, of course, it would be unrealistic to expect AK or R.Balki to show interest in. While you ponder this, consider also the supremely advanced methods of garbage collection, treatment, and disposal that exist in India. NOT.
So the question I submit is, could it be that corporate advertising might has a dotted line to this film?
I know what you’ll tell me: Just go with the flow.
I’ll leave you with these links on reusable cloth pads:
A ‘sustainable living’ woman entrepreneur’s green pads venture in Bengaluru.
Remember, Padman is a 2-hr sanitary napkin commercial.