“Big man, strong man, not making country strong,” says Akshay Kumar’s character Lakshmikant Chauhan in the trailer of Pad Man. Channeling Arunachalam Muruganantham, the low-cost sanitary pad manufacturer from Coimbatore who inspired Chauhan, the Hindi movie star completed the thought at a media event in Mumbai on Thursday: “Woman strong, country strong.”
The release of R Balki’s fifth movie has been advanced by a day from January 26 to the 25th. Pad Man is based on The Sanitary Man of Sacred Land, one of four stories in Twinkle Khanna’s The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad, which in turn was inspired by Muruganantham, who built a machine to crank out affordable sanitary pads. Also starring Radhika Apte and Sonam Kapoor, the film traces Lakshmikant’s efforts to bust stereotypes associated with menstruation.
“Pad Man is about a husband who cares for his wife and innovates something for her,” Akshay Kumar said at the press event. “It is a beautiful love story. To make our country strong, we have to make women strong.”
The film took shape when Khanna, who is married to Kumar, approached Balki to write and direct a film on Muruganantham. Pad Man has been co-produced by Khanna’s company Mrs Funnybones Movies. Among the real-life incidents revealed by Muruganantham in a TED Talk that have made it to the movie is a self-experiment with a sanitary napkin. Lakshmikant wears underwear fitted with his self-made sanitary pad to test out his product.
“When I had to wear the pink underwear with the pad for a sequence in the film, for about 30 seconds I was a little scared,” Kumar revealed. “But after that I was fine.”
Kumar met and observed Muruganantham for the role, but also relied on Balki’s research. “I met him, understood him and I just loved him,” Kumar said about Muruganantham. “I love the way he [Muruganantham] speaks and talks. He made a machine for just Rs 60,000. It started off by just making it for his wife. He is a man who used nothing but common sense to make the machine. If we all use common sense, we can all be Arunachalam.”
Pad Man is the latest Akshay Kumar movie to tackle a sensitive social issue – this year’s Toilet Ek Prem Katha, if you will. “People want change, and I am happy that they do,” Kumar said. “If we keep on running this way, we are not far away from doomsday. Nobody listens when speeches are given to people in villages. When you make a film, it has music, entertainment and comedy. That makes a lot of difference.”
Kumar claims some credit for reducing open defecation after Toilet Ek Prem Katha (2017), in which a husband fights his orthodox father to build a toilet for his bride. “When I started making Toilet, open defecation was 62 per cent, it has now become 33 per cent,” Kumar claimed. “I am not saying this was possible just because of the film, but the film has been one of the causes. So even if Pad Man is able to make a difference to 5 per cent of the women who have not been using pads, it is still a huge thing.”
Even if Pad Man sparks off little more than a conversation on the taboo topic of menstruation, it will be enough, the Bollywood star said. “The fact that men are discussing pads on social media is the biggest victory,” Kumar said. “Even women used to be scared to talk about it. I don’t care about the business the film is going to make. I want everyone to watch this film with their families. A woman should be able to go to a man and say, I just got my period. It is that natural.”