“You enjoy being a man, when the woman in you wakes up,” says the IIT Delhi professor Walia in the movie Padman. He joined cooking classes when it fell upon him to single-handedly bring up his daughter (played by Sonam Kapoor), so she could continue to enjoy delicious food.
Contrast this to another professor, who tells Padman “Be a man, not a fool,” when he finds out that Akshay wants to invent a low cost machine to make affordable sanitary pads, so rural women could stop using dirty pieces of cloth and avoid resulting infections. Yet another guy insensitively accuses his wife of being overweight and breaking the tap, when she slips and falls in the bathroom, shrieking with pain.
It is not easy, to take up the issue of affordable but hygienic sanitary pads in a society where women on a menstrual cycle are considered impure and even the mention of a period is taboo. The irony is that in this same society, the occasion of a girl reaching puberty is celebrated with singing and dancing, and the girl is made to feel like a princess.
But, it will be an overgeneralization to think that the movie Padman is only about the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham and how he found an innovative solution to helping with “chums” which women in villages can afford to pay for. The movie is more interested in hammering the message that confident and secure men appreciate women for all the challenges which they face. The nonchalant ease with which Akshay asks for a pink colored ladies underwear of his size signifies that a confident man should feel proud to think from a woman’s point of view. It is this sensitivity not only towards his wife, but towards his sisters and even other women in the society, that prods the Padman to seek an affordable and hygienic solution for women on her period, and he is driven on this mission to the point of obsession.
Akshay is sincere in playing the role of the Padman. Radhika Apte does justice to her part as a naïve woman who believes that there is no bigger challenge for a woman, than fighting shame. It is another matter that the shame is self-imposed and totally unnecessary.
Sonam enters quite late in the movie, but gives the much needed momentum to the movie just when it was beginning to stagger. It is her supporting father, in the movie, who conveys some of the strongest messages on being an understanding dad and reinforces repeatedly that ego does not make a man stronger.
The movie cautiously treads a delicate path between sermonizing on an important social issue and entertaining the audience. Both Akshay and Radhika bring to the screen a chemistry that is rather romantic. Sonam is convincing in the role of an affluent South Delhi girl; you cannot help but like her.
The movie goes beyond conveying just the social message of the need for affordable sanitary pads. At no point in the movie, did I feel that I was watching a documentary. Padman is an enjoyable watch, as it raises the challenges faced by women during that time of the month when men can bleed their ego. Period.