Padman Movie Review

A highly relevant film ruined by Bollywood sensibilities that stick with star vehicle narratives

Brain-o-meter rating - 6.5/10

Sanitary pads have long been a taboo topic, not only in rural areas of India, but even among the intellectual urban class, who still fail to educate the society of their need and importance. Padman, hence is a relevant film, which could have been impactful where it mattered too. Alas, it is a egotistical star vehicle that panders to the sensibilities of traditional hero-worship, albeit with the help of a real story of a real superman, Mr. Arunachalam from Coimbatore.

Yes, the story is largely based on the real-life hero, but the makers wanted to cater to the North Indian belt, hence Coimbatore gave way to Indore and Arunachalam gave way to Lakshmiprasad, who just wants his wife to do away with dirty clothes to protect her during menstruation. The society taboo speaks loud and then on, it becomes the protagonist's determination to transform his wife's "sharam" to "sammaan" by introducing low-cost pads, and in turn impact the society for the better.

The real-life story is inspiring, but the narrative only serves to eulogise its hero, about how caring, and concerned the protagonist is, while forgetting to educate women about how lack of hygiene could affect their health and life, and no tradition is above safeguarding the lives of half the population of India. The film mentions only 12% of women have access to hygienic pads in India, which is true. But it does not drive home the point of how Arunachalam's effort should be lauded and women themselves should do away with this taboo, sparking feminism in the right direction. A high budget movie with a major star at the helm, and yet the takeaways about the hygiene part is minimal. What stays at the end, is a bloated narrative that focuses on Akshay Kumar, the do-gooder, which robs the film of narrative heft, of what could have been, if the real message was brought across.

The only genuine character portrayal I felt, was from Radhika Apte, who plays the meek wife, who is scared of dishonor, with genuineness and skill.  I would not take away anything from Akshay Kumar here, he is sincere, but off late, all his portrayals are preachy and pandering to the masses, with no absolutely no subtlety. R. Balki's direction also gives out mixed results, most scenes are eulogic, much like Rajnikant films are, albeit there are some fresh quips and dialogues that raise some chuckles. The signature flourishes are missing. The music is okay, with only the Arijit song, Aaj se meri, making some impression. Sonam Kapoor has not much to do, and although she tries some smart repartees, they fall flat because of the one-note delivery. The screenplay is meandering in places, only some scenes are strong enough to register impact.

This could have been so much better, than it is. But still, I would encourage people to watch it, not only the rural milieu but also the narrow-minded so-called urban people, who are completely living in ignorance about the state of affairs. If this film inspires even a handful of people to take up mass generation of low-cost sanitary pads indigenously, I would think this film although it fails cinematically, is still a success, whether it was the original intention or not.

PS: I hope producers encourage casting character actors like Irrfan and even Dhanush, who have some audience following at least, for such roles, but I believe when Mrs. Funnybones is the producer here, Akshay was her logical choice for the protagonist's role.