First, an admission: I was glad when Padmaavat and Pad Man were set to release on the same day. Why? Because my family – wife and teenage son and daughter – were keen on the former and I had to see the latter for the purpose of this review. Much as I count myself as a liberal mind, it was an awkward thought imagining to watch scenes and dialogues of women's menstrual problems with the teens.
I still managed to watch it alone, clutching on to another excuse but that is another story.
After the makers of Pad Man agreed to postpone the release, actress Radhika Apte was asked at a promotional event about her personal experiences related to the awkwardness that I felt.
Unusually, she had supportive doctor parents who actually celebrated her reach a major stage of puberty by throwing a party. Still, she said, she could not get out of her awkwardness until she decided to just shed inhibitions and loudly called out for a packet of sanitary pads at a pharmacy shop in public.
Pad Man is a larger-than-life reel adaptation of the real-life story of Arunachalam Murgunantham, known as India's Menstruation Man. It has called out to the cinema-going public to shed inhibitions about a simple call of nature in public where many are still finding complex ways to deal with it.
R Balki has always did films breaking stereotypes from his debut with Cheeni Kum to Paa, Shamitabh and Ki & Ka before this. Pad Man is the only one based on a true story, unlike others, though as Balki chronicles Muruganantham's journey to make affordable sanitary napkins for women in his village to setting up a small-scale industry.
The fate of Pad Man at the box office hinges on how many people realise what the fuss is all about on two counts.
The movie claims that just a fraction of India's burgeoning population over the years can afford sanitary pads sold by MNCs at high prices for much more than the costs involved.
More serious is the stigma and tradition attached to the "five-day Test match" every month in a woman's life where her movements are restricted and looked down upon.
Like Akshay Kumar's Toilet, this movie only brings forth another social issue and there is a sense of deja vu watching the actor using a formula that runs the risk of repetition.
As per the pattern, the first half is quickly introducing the characters and skimming through the emotional attachment that is much needed in the sensitive situation but is dispensable on practical counts. Akshay has nicely portrayed the character of Murugunantham, whose sense of humour is evident from his TedX talk.
And like Toilet, the second half is about Akshay as the man on a mission who overcomes all hurdles with the usual twist. That X factor here is the infatuation with Sonam Kapoor who carries the role of a big helping hand as effortlessly as negotiating the stage when their friendship reaches a tipping point.
Amit Trivedi's music also flirts effortlessly through the plot for some relief just when the viewer has soaked up the gravity of the plot. A cameo from superstar Amitabh Bachchan is a perfect fit, as well.
The film has taken needless liberties, though, especially with Murgunantham's personal life details. It is difficult to ascertain but there is no mention of another woman (Sonam Kapoor) in his real life, yet. His rise from Coimbatore and Tamil Nadu and a first break with an award from IIT Madras has been replaced by IIT Delhi and his character is Lakshmikant Chouhan in a Madhya Pradesh setting.
The movie also skims through - not a fault - what is a realisation perhaps by the real-life Murgunantham that he can fight the battle on one of the two counts. The original Pad Man was perhaps smart to limit himself to the more important task at hand. The social stigma and reforms needed to change the conservative mindset can be a larger battle by gradual means.
For now, his affordable pads and manufacturing machines have shown the way. The first step for his audience is to acknowledge and shed inhibitions first.
Pad Man is that shout-out. That itself makes it a worthy cause to watch it, purely for the social message.