Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai expressed her solidarity with the message of menstrual hygiene in R Balki’s PadMan. Now that Twinkle Khanna(who’s a producer on the project) has met Malala in London, plans are afoot to show the film to the youngest Nobel laureate.
Says R Balki, “What can I say about Malala coming forward to support our film? We are blessed and honoured. It is voices like her which would carry our message in PadMan forward. Menstruation must not be swept under the carpet any more.And we need powerful voices like Malala’s to carry the message forward.”
Balki reveals plans of showing PadMan to Malala. “We are definitely showing it to her at the earliest, as soon as the logistics are worked out.”
For Balki, Pad Man about the man who invented the economical sanitary pad is a leap into the unknown that he was initially reluctant to take. “Firstly, this is a story of a real-life character Arunachalam Muruganantham. The fact that he really exists initially daunted. I don’t like making films about people who exist specially those who are alive, as this puts a tremendous pressure on the filmmaker to replicate the real person without offence to anyone, I would rather go into lives that I conceive specially for cinema rather than a life that pre-exists.”
But then something made Balki change his mind. “I decided to make an exception this time. I decided to do Pad Man because the story of the man who thought of making the sanitary pad affordable to the middleclass really inspired me. When Twinkle Khanna(Mrs Akshay kumar) came to me with the idea,I was hooked. For too long we’ve swept sensitive issues such as women’s hygiene and sanitary pads under the carpet, out of the range of supposedly civil conversation. If a film like Pad Man opens up a dialogue, persuades people to talk about the imperatives of sanitary pads, fine. However I don’t feel the message is more important than entertainment in any film.
I am glad audiences are enjoying the film and taking the message home.
”Balki believes that cinema should first and foremost cinema . “Earlier entertainment-oriented cinema was invariably divorced from information-based art. In recent time we’ve seen a merger of entertainment and information in cinema. Cinema that informs is no longer considered boring. Audiences are agreeable to cinema that informs as long as it is entertaining. I feel we’ve achieved that marriage of entertainment and information in Pad Man.”
That a male actor of Akshay Kumar’s clout speaks about sanitary napkin makes the issue all the more relevant.
Says Balki, “Akshay’s voice is far-reaching. His message goes to the most distant corners of the world. We are hopeful that Pad Man will resonate with the audience. And that it would make a difference in the issue of gender sensitization in our country. Not that we are looking at a sudden aggressive shift in the way men address the question of menstruation .But women should not speak about it in a whisper .”
Not that Balki wanted the menstruation and sanitary pads to be the nation’s talkpoint. “What I’d like is a level of sensitivity in dealing with these issues. When the pharmacist gives a woman a packet of pads wrapped in a newspaper, he is not so much insensitive to the issue as he is sensitive towards what he feels are subjects that women would rather not talk about.We need to stop addressing certain topics in embarrassed apologetic tones.”
Balki is thrilled to direct Akshay Kumar for the first time. “He brings so much to the film without seeming to. He is a no-fuss actor whose voice carries very far.”
Balki’s favourite Amitabh Bachchan also appears in Pad Man. “He has been a part of all my films so far. He makes an important appearance in Pad Man.I don’t think I can do a film where Mr Bachchan is not a part.”
How does Balki rate Pad Man in his oeuvre? “Are you kidding? I don’t remember a single frame of any of my films. Once I am done with them , I’m out. Maybe I should revisit my films to be able to answer your question.”