Having seen Arunachalam Muruganathan present on stage at an InMobi event, I was in awe of him. He had a wryish, witty sense of humour when he presented his own tale. He was human, humble, yet could bring down the irony of his work in a humorous way with an English that was uniquely his own. In fact I was so pissed with Balki making the movie set in Madhya Pradesh and not in Tamil Nadu , that I had vowed not to see the movie. But a long holiday weekend needed a movie and so watched Padman.
As a movie , its definitely watchable, because its a tale worth telling especially the taboo attached with the subject of menstruation and the astronomical care costs associated with it. Akshay Kumar is now the Mr.Dependable of Indian Cinema. He grovels towards nationalist themes and tries to show a painstaking portrayal with actually effortless ease. His performance in Pad Man is probably only 5-7% different from his performance in Toilet Ek Prem Katha, but the topic at hand gives sufficient narrative flourishes for him to exploit. There in lies the problem with the movie. While its good enough , it reeks of the commercialism. The usage of Twinkle Khanna for concept credit , her being one of the producers of the movie for the obvious credit it can give her , as an Akshay Kumar production its also an unabashed star vehicle - especially the speech in the UN that he gives is just a better version of his Namastey London spiel. Having seen the original entreprenuer speak, the emotional quotient of this movie is definitely sub par.
While its a more sensitive topic than Toilet Ek Prem Katha, its treatment seems very templatized. I Balkis screenplay for most parts is searching for aha moments - something that we have grown to associate with him since the Cheeni Kum days. Blame it on his ad film background - he thinks in 30 - 3min parts.
Starting with the title itself - Pad Man - its probably unpronouceable by the audience it wants to educate. It seems more like a funny movie about someone who farts - a theme that can also be associated with Akshay Kumar.
Set in a small town on the banks of Narmada, Akshay Kumar is Laxmi a guy who is a supreme outlier in that state for doting on his wife Gayatri ( Radhika Apte) from day one. As a welder he builds a throne for her on his bicycle. He worries about her use of a rag cloth during the 5 days of menstruation. Now its slightly unexplained why this concerned him more than anyone else. Would have liked a stronger driver -we have to assume because he has 3 sisters he gets it more than others. Thats when the journey starts for him to find the right apparatus to protect her - he buys a pad at an exorbitant sum of Rs.55 only to be told by his wife that spending so much on this for her will come at the cost of milk and it will have to be spent on his sisters as well else it will be seen a being partial.
So he sets about making a indigenious pad himself by deconstructing its ingredients - cotton and cloth and plastic. How he does it is the story of the entrepreneur himself. But the biggest problem he faces is not the effectiveness of his product but the social taboo associated with it and people reacting to it as 'Chee' and women not adopting it themselves. While trying to test it on himself , using a pump with sheeps blood, it fails and his family is shamed in the village. So everyone deserts him and he has to back his entreprenuerial instinct by working as the man friday for a professor, understanding the technology via his first time Google experience and replicate it in a tinshed.
Most entreprenuer journeys are also about the struggle and while the struggle is nicely portrayed in the first half, it becomes kind of smooth sailing in second half - especially for a guy who is trying to sell a product that he wont get any trial customers and is in debt. The entry of Sonam Kapoor as a smartass MBA who helps him with his marketing livens the proceedings, because this is for the first time someone cast Sonam to play herself. But this is Balki in ad land territory trying to do a Kotler 101 for the audience also.
The movie simply didnt leave me with the same impact as the speech of Mr. Arunachalam Muruganathan. However it is able to achieve a lot in the screenplay. It is redeemed by the dialogues of Swanand Kirkire - when Gayathri says to Akshay - 'kyun auraton ki pairon ki neeche wali duniye main apna waqt zaaya kar rahe ho' , aurat ka sabse bada bimari sharam hai ' , small boys talking about the '5 day test match of the girls and so on. However it doesnt go deep , its a poster boy finish , not a real life anguish.