There was a time when a certain section of the audience criticised Akshay Kumar for restricting himself to comedies or action films and not trying to push the envelope with his choice of films or roles. Ever since he appeared in director Neeraj Pandey's 'Special 26', one could see him taking small steps and work with filmmakers that one could not have imagined working with him or doing films one would not expect him to be a part of. His two releases in the year 2017 namely, 'Jolly LLB 2' and 'Toilet Ek Prem Katha' garnered critical acclaim apart from making good numbers at the box-office. His new film 'Padman' deals with the taboo issue of menstrual hygiene and Akshay plays a character based on Arunachalam Muruganatham, a man who contributed greatly towards highlighting the importance of menstrual hygiene in India.
Lakshmikant Chauhan, a good natured mechanic, lives in a village in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Apart from Lakshmikant/Lakshmi, there are no men in the house. The other members consist of his wife Gayatri (Radhika Apte), his mother (Jyoti Subhash) and two younger sisters (Soumya Vyas and Parul Chauhan). He has another sister who has been married for years and lives with her family and in-laws. One day, Lakshmi realises that his wife uses a very dirty cloth as a means to menstrual hygiene. He buys a packet of sanitary pads for her but she reprimands him by saying that it is too expensive and he should not have indulged so much money on buying it. Lakshmi is concerned about the poor hygiene conditions observed by his wife and the other women in the house and decides to do something about it.
It is quite a brave effort on the part of one of India's leading film stars to back and act in a film which talks about a tabooed topic. Even in 2017, most families do not talk discuss this openly amongst themselves. The fact that the film has been banned from being exhibited in a neighbouring country should give you a good idea about the sensitivity of the subject in a conservative setup. The entire team must be lauded for making a film that deals with this issue in an unabashed manner and at the same time, turns out to be a thoroughly engaging fare. The film is based on Muruganantham's life but the writers (Twinkle Khanna, Swanand Kirkire and R Balki) have several creative liberties to make the film appealing to the lowest common denominator and add several fictional narrative or sub-plots in this direction.
Pari, played by Sonam Kapoor, is a fictional character. The character makes an appearance in the second half of the film and her inclusion has a lot of importance in the narrative as it contributes significantly propelling it forward. Pari contributes towards several light and heart-warming moments in the second hour of the film. But, the abruptness of a brief and awkward romance between Pari and Lakshmikant does not cut ice and adds zero value to the narrative. Why could not a man and a woman working together be friends or could just be shown as professional partners/colleagues? While it is definitely a convenient step to portray a south Indian character as one hailing from North India in a Hindi film, one wishes the maker shad not taken the easy route and used Murugantham's real name and portrayed him closer to his ethnic and cultural roots.
Balki's earlier films were set in an urban lieu and at least some of the primary characters in those films belonged had their roots in a cosmopolitan setup. He goes earthy and rural with 'Padman' and makes a film that does not have the flavour of any of the four films he had directed in the past. He puts together a good and entertaining script with co-writers Twinkle Khanna and Swanand Kirkire. Amit Trivedi delivers a lovely track in the form of "Aaj Se Teri" but the rest of the tracks do not match up. He delivers a supremely effective background score though. P.C Sreeram's camerawork is brilliant.
Akshay Kumar pitches in with his the best performance of his career. He brings out the charm and inherent goodness in Lakshmikant Chauhan effortlessly. Despite being saddled with a half-baked character, Sonam Kapoor delivers a very good performance. Her character seems an extension of her real self that we get to see and hear in the media - warm and compassionate. One also sees shades of the character she had played in 'Bewakoofiyan'. Radhika Apte suits the part of a village belle and delivers a natural performance.
'Padman' is a hugely informative and entertaining film about a real-life hero we need to doff our hats to.