Padman Review (No Spoilers): This is the Akshay Kumar Female Hygiene Film to Watch, if You Watch Only One

I braved the snow, a huge traffic jam, and using my moviepass card for the first time (it worked!  Like a little miracle) all so I could see this movie.  And it wasn’t half bad!  As a movie.  As a “message” or as a version of the true story, it could have been improved, but as a movie it was a nice solid film.

The obvious comparison with this film is Toilet, the first part of the Akshay Kumar feminine hygiene duology.  And this is a much more satisfying narrative than that one.  There is a clear story line, two clear storylines, the personal and the professional as it were.  And the storylines move forward neatly, with an interval point breaking them in the middle, lots of songs at appropriate moments, and a good mix of characters.

Image result for padman poster

I want to focus on the interval point first.  An interval is a unique feature of Indian films and, when used well, it should feel like a natural break, it should give us a moment to think about what just happened and prepare for what is happening next.  This is one of the best interval point films I’ve seen in years.  At interval, we change location, characters, and focus.  While still building on the story that was established in the first half.

This is the kind of thing that R. Balki can struggle with.  His films tend to have big simple concepts at the heart of them which don’t translate well to breaking points and adding layers of complexity as the story continues and so on.  The excellent interval point here is one of the signs that this is less an R. Balki movie and more an Akshay and Twinkle Khanna movie.

I just speedread through Twinkle’s first version of this story in her book The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad.  She met and spent a long time talking with the real person, Arunachalam Muruganantham, and then got his permission to slightly fictionalize his story and use it in her book.  And a few months back I read a lengthy article with Arunachalam Muruganantham telling his own real life story.  So I have those two previous versions to compare with this film, and it is very close to what Twinkle wrote.  There are certain aspects in particular which were completely invented by Twinkle for her story, and then changed slightly and carried through to the film.  And those aspects make it a better story.  A less “real” story (which I will get into in my No Spoilers review), but a better story with a clear beginning and middle and end.

Image result for Arunachalam Muruganantham

(Here is the real husband and wife, very different from the filmi poster husband and wife)

Twinkle gave the framework already in her short story, Amit Trivedi (so glad his career is taking off) put in some excellent songs, and all Balki had to do was point the camera and follow direction.  And it was clear his direction was coming from Akshay not anyone else.  There are certain distinctive “Akshay” tactics that are used, especially in the first half.  The goofy village guy in love, the dopey smile, the loving protective brother, and on and on.  The start of the second half has a similar issue, but quickly the tone shifts and it becomes something that feels more “real”, and less “Akshay” as the story takes over, the elements from the real story that are most important and were the real point that Twinkle wanted to make are allowed to shine while Akshay takes a back seat.

Twinkle even gives us a stand in for herself in Sonam’s character!  A totally invented person who wasn’t in the “real” story, but was in the book version (with some slight variations).  She is modern and smart and freethinking and can see the goodness inside of Akshay.  In a funny way, it feels like you are watching Akshay himself and Twinkle together onscreen in that part.  The confident outspoken woman and the simple happy loving man.  And you are also watching the team behind the film we are seeing onscreen right now, one of them with a clear vision of the message she wants to convey and the various themes of it, and the other with an idea of how to make it popular down on the ground, the nuts and bolts of putting it together.

Image result for padman sonam kapoor

Which brings me back to the first half of the film.  That is where it feels like Akshay’s vision of how to make it popular, supported by Balki’s tendencies towards minimizing issues into simple comic set pieces, do the greatest damage.  Twinkle’s voice is most lost, reading her story I can see that the themes she wanted to be there were somehow missing.  Until they came roaring back in the second half.

But over all, as I said, it is a well-constructed film.  And avoids many of the issues I had with Toilet, most importantly that feeling that the film kept going in different directions and was torn in pieces.  This is a film that is all of one piece, all fits together.  And it is a film which doesn’t hide the female voice (thank you Twinkle!) even if the promos focus most on the male voice.  And it is a film where the momentum keeps going straight through, no plot point is forgotten or missed, and it all comes together at the end.  Comes together abruptly, but that’s another classic Indian film ploy, to end suddenly so you leave with a smile on your face and don’t get caught in traffic.

 

There is one big overall non-spoiler issue that I have with the film.  I am not sure who it has been made for.  There is so much English dialogue, which makes me think it wasn’t entirely made for the heartland.  Especially because it presents a very “filmi” version of village life that I am not sure would be believable or appreciated by people actually living in villages.  To a large degree, like Dangal, it has the clear purpose of teaching men to be better to women.  Not erasing women from the story exactly, but rather putting the responsibility on the men in their lives to understand them instead of explaining women to themselves.  But the most outspoken woman in the film is of course Sonam, the Twinkle stand-in, wealthy and over-educated and English speaking.  So it seems as though the film is for and speaking to both men (of all classes) and the highest class of women.  Perhaps the goal is political change?  Akshay has been focusing in his interviews and so on, on the sales tax/GST leveyed against sanitary pads.  And to change that, you have to convince the few wealthy powerful women who have a voice in politics, and the many many men of all levels.

What does seem to be the case is that it was not made as propaganda for the current government.  Unlike Toilet which egregiously name-dropped, and erased all Indian leaders before the current party, and otherwise was a transparent attempt to please those currently in power.  But this film was propaganda for the more general “made in India” concept, and innovative capitalist based solutions to problems.  Which, yes, is something the current government is pushing, but it is also a narrative that has been in place since Gandhi and through all subsequent leaders.  It is a basic part of the “Indian” national identity, pride in their innovators and in solving big problems with simple handmade and hand powered machines.

So, over all, if you want to only watch one film in which Akshay gets overly involved in his wife’s bodily functions, definitely definitely definitely this film rather than Toilet.  In every way, story and songs and characters and performances and message, this is the better choice.

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22 thoughts on “Padman Review (No Spoilers): This is the Akshay Kumar Female Hygiene Film to Watch, if You Watch Only One

  1. Pingback: Padman Review (SPOILERS): Three Versions of a Story, Real and Book and Film | dontcallitbollywood

  2. So, over all, if you want to only watch one film in which Akshay gets overly involved in his wife’s bodily functions, definitely definitely definitely this film rather than Toilet. Hahahaha

    Seeing this tomorrow with my 10-year-old son who only agreed to go if he has his phone and headphones, so we will be in the back seats at the end of a row so he’s not bothering anyone. But still excited to see it in a real theater!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh boy, there is SO MUCH embarrassing stuff for a ten year old boy! But whatever, it’s good for him to know women get periods.

      It will be a fun one in a real theater, the songs are beautiful, and there are some nice laugh lines and a surprise appearance which might get a reaction (depending on what the crowd is like).

      Like

  3. Hi, been following your site for a while. Good stuff. Liked your viewpoint on the movie and I feel the freedom of a blog allows one that. You’ve raised an important point which very few did about the inordinate importance given to Akshay Kumar’s character which possibly came from AK himself. Moreover unlike TEPK, though some are saying she performed well, Radhika Apte never quite got the scope to fully express her acting talent like Bhumi did in that film. And why was Sonam Kapoor’s role so evidently stronger than Radhika Apte’s? You can read my review and the rest of my blog at shakyamitra.wordpress.com

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  4. I’m not entirely sure why but the Padman Challenge got a lot of flak on social even though it was basically following the same social media promotion strategy as all the other braindead social media challenges. I dont know if it was the post-Padmavati exhaustion that people didn’t spend too much time talking about the this film or the challenge but I guess they should have.

    If this film looks like it’s made to speak to the urban Indian male, well then that’s good. That’s who’s going to make talking about periods and feminine hygiene “cool”. which in turn is going to make advertising agencies involve men in ads about periods and pads which in turn is going to normalise this conversation.

    Village guys are less ashamed to talk about the subject anyway. My cousin from the village who briefly lived with us and had a job at my office used to discuss his wife’s menstrual issues with my mom and dad. They cringed but he probably thought they’re city people and they’d know more about this medical condition. LOL

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    • I thought village guys would be more aware!!!! Just because you know this stuff when you don’t have an inside toilet and you live in close quarters and so on. That was one thing I found really unbelievable in this film, they suggested that Akshay, a guy with 3 sisters and a 4 room apartment, did not know about periods until he got married.

      I’m sorry the “Padman challenge” didn’t take off, because I felt like for once it was actually addressing a main part of the issue. Like, the ice bucket challenge was supposed to raise money for ALS (I think), but everyone lost track of that with the ice buckets. But just holding and taking a photo of a sanitary pad was the whole point and could actually make a difference.

      On Sun, Feb 11, 2018 at 12:34 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

    • It is exactly what the ads promised, maybe slightly better than I expected, but if you’ve been looking forward to it based on the trailers and posters, it is exactly what you are hoping it will be.

      On Sun, Feb 11, 2018 at 1:26 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Liked by 1 person

      • Long time lurker but wanted to leave this comment now, as it hasn’t come up yet here. I haven’t seen the movie yet, and I was checking out its reviews from the critics I respect (you being one); one of them was Baradwaj Rangan. His was a favorable review, but he also posted link to an article, in comments section, that discusses how sanitary-napkin issue may have been overblown by the movie and certain NGOs than it is in reality. I am leaning towards believing the article given what appears to be a strong rebuttal with citations on relevant studies.
        I don’t claim to completely understand the severity of this issue, but this rebuttal needs to be strongly considered when one thinks of what the movie is trying to achieve. Here is the article – https://mythrispeaks.wordpress.com/2018/02/09/padman-the-real-story-of-how-he-shot-to-fame-by-selling-shame/

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        • Thank you so much!!!! That was a wonderful article. I’m not going to say that I was sensitive and smart enough to reject the film entirely, but there were a few things that seemed slightly odd to me which I ignored. First, that there has been a long tradition of multinational companies convincing new markets that they “need” their product (for instance, formula instead of breast milk). And second, they described menstruation in ways that seemed slightly off. Like, 5 days every month, which is not my experience nor the experience of any woman I know. It’s more like 3-7 days every month to month and a half. I ignored that, thinking it was just for the sake of simplicity, but it was another moment that made me wonder if he had ever spoken to a woman. Oh, and I was also a little confused by the idea of sanitary pads being the solution, since not every woman I know prefers sanitary pads over other options (for instance, the diva cup which is increasingly popular) and as I mentioned jokingly in my review, the biggest issue with a period is not containing the bleeding, but controlling the pain.

          Of course, there is a balance, part of what he is doing is providing locally made products by women’s collectives (which could also be a lie, but at least this particular article doesn’t dispute it), and it is possible that there are women who would like pads, any pad, and cannot afford regular ones. The bigger issue seems to be the cultural taboo which might force women and girls into isolation during those days, which the film addresses without directly addressing it in a very nice way. If the film serves to start a conversation and raise awareness of what menstruation really is, it might remove the cultural taboo. Also, the main focus of the film as a propoganda tool was not to support the person in particular but to lower or remove the GST on menstral supplies, which would go along with the thrust of this article.

          But again, THANK YOU!!! I am going to add the link to my review. And also, thank you for commenting! And I love your username 🙂

          Like

  5. I am honestly NOT liking the way, these supposed to be women centric movies are taken over by a MALE character as it is HIS problem, like WHAT THE HELL!
    Toilet and Padman are struggles of a woman! These are amazing stories that Bhumi or Sonam’s characters could fight for themselves, and achieve the same recognition and victory’. Why is this need for a man, like Akshay Kumar’s characters in Toilet and Padman, to make it all about his ACCEPTANCE towards a women’s struggle!
    Shubh Mangal was about erectile dysfunction and it was handled beautifully by both genders in a marriage. Even though, it was technically the Ayushman’s problem, Bhumi didnt demand to make it HER problem of how she would never have kids. Bhumi handled it in a way where both could work together and solve it.
    Why does Bollywood do it? Why are people watching this? It shouldn’t be watched. I don’t want to watch Akshay Kumar make a change about a problem he doesn’t know about, making it seem as he knows the struggle. If Akshay Kumar’s character went with Bhumi in Toilet and did his business like how the women have been doing since forever, and then, understood the struggle and fought, then fine! But, He made it all about himself.
    Isn’t this frustrating?
    This is why I am so happy!! That the Padman Challenge didn’t become viral. As most of the people holding pads were men. WHAT DO THEY KNOW!!

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    • I meant Radhika Apte^^^ for Padman.
      This might be my last post before I embark on the Lenten Season. I am giving up Movies once again. It’s going to be hard but I shall see you on April 1st ✌🏽✌🏽
      Take Care!!

      Like

    • I can forgive this one much more easily than Toilet, because it is based on a true story, and they even added extra women into the true story to make sure it was more balanced. Whereas Toilet was a woman’s story about a woman’s issue and they threw in a man for no reason.

      I think I can kind of see the idea of the Padman challenge, since a big part of the problem is that it was made into “only” a woman’s issue, was kept out of the public sphere, so maybe having men holding and talking about sanitary pads would bring them out into the light and make things better.

      Like

        • It’s much much better than Toilet in that regard. And I love that someone involved in the film (I’m guessing Twinkle) was smart enough to know that they had to add in Sonam in the second half, even if no person like that existed in reality, in order to make the film better.

          On Sun, Feb 11, 2018 at 9:54 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  6. The real story of Lakshmikant Chauhan who made low cost sanitary pads. After marrying to his wife. He comes to know that She use Dirty Clothes During her periods and She cannot enter kitchen For 5 days During Her periods , When He Comes To Know From Doctor that Using Dirty Clothes in Periods Can Cause Many types of infections etc , Lakshmi then Himself Decides to making and selling Sanitary pads. What all he faces during that time everything has be directed well. A great story of the man who tackled the taboo of periods in the country is shown in a mediocre way. Maybe the lead could have been more relevant & grounded as the topic demanded. 3 hearts is what we give to Padman starring Akshy Kumar, Sonam Kapoor & Radhika Apte. Topic credits to the producer Twinkle Khanna & a good show put up by director R Balki

    Like

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