What’s with these feminist Bollywood movies? You come out of the theatre after watching Dangal and wonder whether it was more to do with Aamir’s stardom instead of the heroics of the Phogat sisters. Padman leaves you with a similar dilemma.
The movie is based on the legend of Arunachalam Muruganantham, a ‘man genius’ from Tamil Nadu who is credited with the invention of low-cost pads. The movie grapples between delivering a social message and sustaining the attention of the audience, managing to accomplish a little on both fronts but fully on neither.
The age-old of technique of setting up the characters with a song has been used in Pad Man. After showing the ritual of ‘saat phere’, the scene cuts straight away to the ‘Suhaagraat’ of Lakshmikant Chauhan (Akshay Kumar) and Gayatri Chauhan (Radhika Apte). Following one of the quickest ice break moments in human history, the movie takes no time in establishing the intimacy between the lead couple and the devotion of Lakhshmi for his wife’s cause.
Sonam Kapoor is introduced after more than half the movie has already passed. She is brought in as a table player – the most unconvincing one that ever existed – through a scene that could have been easily done away with. The camera keeps cutting wildly from extremely wide shots to close-ups of ‘her’ hands in an unsuccessful attempt to make her character believable to the audience.
Akshay Kumar makes you marvel over the understatedness of his acting skills. He does a great job of balancing between the drama and humour through which the movie keeps moving to and fro. Radhika Apte’s role is bereft of too many layers. She does well with the sobbing which constitutes the major part of her role.
Sonam Kapoor directly lands from the sets of “Raanjhanaa”. From the apparel to dialogue delivery, there is hardly any difference between Zoya and Pari. She hams in some scenes but does a decent job overall.
The supporting cast fails to impress. The performances of Lakshmi’s mother and sisters remind us of the 60s and 70s. Suneel Sinha stands out as Pari’s father. Faiz Khan also does a good job in the role of Haria.
Realizing the need to hit home a certain message, some overemotional scenes can be discounted for, but there are others which are certainly uncalled for. Especially, the scene in which Lakshmi jumps into the Narmada upon finding that his trouser being begrimed by blood was not needed to be shot in such a melodramatic fashion. The slow-motion shots with heavy background music and a teary-eyed Radhika Apte induces more laughter than sorrow.
A gratuitous kiss between Sonam and Akshay not only takes us away from the main plot but also disrupts the sanctity of their relationship. This abstemious love triangle could have been avoided.
The script discretely demarcates the various phases of storytelling. All components of the story arc are strictly followed. The tone of the Akshay Kumar starrer swings from didactic and melodramatic to humorous at times. This has been the real quandary for R Balki. He makes an abortive attempt at equilibrating between the message and the medium.
Right from the time when the trailer dropped, it was made very clear that the movie is being marketed as a very commercial entity. The opening song “Aaj Se Teri” does well in establishing the lead characters. The second song “Saale Sapne” portrays the struggles of Lakshmikant. “Hu Ba Hu” also helps in moving the narrative forward.
The reaming two songs come as a disappointment. Especially, the title song deserves a better number than the same overworn formula song of Mika Singh. “Sayani” which is centred on the marriage ceremony of Lakshmi’s sister does no more than giving the ladies an opportunity to thrust their pelvic.
All in all, Padman is a movie that was waiting to be made given the taboo subject it tackles. It gives us a peek into the dire condition of the rural women when it comes to sanitation. The 140-minute film throws light on the obscure genius of Arunachalam Muruganantham and the struggle which he had to go through to finally achieve his goal.
There are phases when Pad Man may seem like an extension of the government’s awareness campaign. Some scenes have also been stretched far too long. But the movie redeems itself through some good acting, unexpected humour and refreshing screenplay. “It was worth a onetime watch,” is what you tell yourself while leaving the theatre.