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PadMan Movie Review: It Is A Noble Masterpiece , Period!

Subhash K . Jha

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Starring:  Akshay Kumar, Sonam Kapoor, Radhika Apte

Directed  by: R Balki

Rating: *****(5 Stars)

There was  Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s stunning Padmaavat two weeks ago. There  is  the stunning-in-its-own-right PadMan  this week.

 There is the  period film. And then there is  the film about the periods. Excellence comes in many packages.But rarely in a small secret package wrapped a newspaper .Sometimes  these packages cost Rs 55 and are completely out of reach  for  the non-urban women  of  India.

One man in Tamil Nadu, who is miraculously a convincingly-transformed   North Indian inPadMan, decided to do something about making sanitary pads affordable to poor women. The thought was not just unmentionable, but also outrageous. It still is.The pain humiliation, strife and  final victory  of Laxmikant Chauhan  is  narrated in a series of quickly-cut quirky bitterly humorous episodes(editor Chandan Arora can take a bow) that could easily have become  caricatured  preachy and propagandist.

PadMan is  none  of the  above.  It celebrates  the spirit of enterprise with enrapturing integrity and tempered gusto , rendering the saga of Laxmikant Chauhan’s journey from familial  humiliation and spouse-deseration to a  PadmaShri addressing the United Nations.One  of India’s finest cinematographers P C Sreeram makes Laxmikant’s audacious odyssey a visual manifestation  of a life that defies logical definition.

PadMan has two heroes.Akshay Kumar and P C Sreeram.

But before we get there, a word  on the cinema of noble intentions that seems to have run out of steam in these times of perverse dreams.Nobility  in these cynical twisted times when little girls get raped and big boys sell state secrets for big bucks,is not a quality we value in art.Given the premium we  place on selfinterest the sheer generosity of  spirit that R Balkidisplays in his fifth feature film—and by far his finest work—should  be reason to stand  up and applaud PadMan.

But wait. Hold  on  to your seats. There is much more to celebrate in this wonderfully motivated  film,a  tidalwave  of menstrual liberation   that sweeps us into its charming folds like  an old grandmother in whose arms we would cuddle and  forget the worries of  the world. PadMan possesses a rare innocence and charm.The proclivity to  live a life of utter selflessness that seeps out of every pore in its protagonist’s heart, comes pouring out of every frame, wrapping us in a feeling of bonhomie that captures life’s most cherishable  emotions.

It is   very hard , almost impossible  , to forget the protagonist, a  true hero of our times,Laxmikant Chauhan.And not only because of  the  luminous way the character is written byBalki and his co-writer Swanand Kirkire. It’s the way Akshay Kumar plays Laxmikant, a man  driven to insane bouts of audacity   by the passion to diminish the pain that women experience  for 5 days(disparagingly referred  to as ‘test match’ by the boys of the mohallah) every  month.

 Balki adopts a simple straightforward linear narrative mode, leaving behind the swag and swagger of Chini Kam, Ki & Ka and the underrated Shamitabh to focus on the man and his mission with a singlemindeness of vision shared in equal measures by  the protagonist and the filmmaker. There are passages of keen satire rubbing shoulders with fleeting images of deep contemplation in the supple sturdy and rugged storytelling,all merging in a marriage of Pure Cinema and Social Statement.

The narrative does tend to overstate its case. And there are sequences such as the one between  Sonam and her screen father in a car at the end, which smack of over-explanation. But most of the time Balki knows where to hold back and where to let  go. The pauses in Laxmikant’s saga are rarely filled with irrelevance.Balki and his leading man won’t allow  a life so rarefied  to be  inured in nonsense.

The  performances are uniformly appealing. I love Balki’s unusual casting tricks in all his films. Here in PadMan watch out exciting underexposed  acting talent,for instance veteran actress Jyoti Subhash as Akshay Kumar’s mother. And Sunil Sinha(remember him in Gulzar’s Maachis?) as  Sonam Kapoor’s Sardarji father.Sinha has  some of  the  best father-daughter scenes with Sonam and  the film’s finest line: “To be a complete father, try playing the mother .To be  a complete man try feeling a woman’s pain.”

 While Radhika Apte as Akshay’s wife is uncharacteristically over-the-top in conveying a woman’s menstrual anxieties(at times she behaves as though the wife Gayatri has her time of the month  for the entire month) Sonam’s Pari is a delight. The actress plays a table player and an incorrigible do-gooder and Laxmikant’s biggest support, all without toppling over into excessive sweetness.

The kiss she shares with her co-star is  a little…ummmm…out of place.But that’s okay. No one  and  nothing is  perfect.

The film belongs to Akshay Kumar. Make no mistake  about that. Playing Laxmikant with a mixture of inbuilt ingenuity and curiosity he makes the man  believable and endearing , so compassionate and inspiring. As  Laxmikant Chauhan/‎Arunachalam Muruganantham ,Akshay Kumar’s  rousing speech at the UN is the showreel that will be shown when he gets his first lifetime achievement award. In the meanwhile, do reserve every single acting honour of 2018 for this  performance.

Arunachalam Muruganantham is not North Indian. But after watching Akshay Kumar play him, I wish he was.

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