– Yaser Khan
Bold and never seen before films, that’s what we known of R. Balki’s directorials. He made an unconventional debut with ‘Cheeni Kum’ showcasing a relationship ahead of its time, then came a contrast ‘Paa’ for him where he dealt with progeria, he then gave us ‘Shamitabh’ which again had something different to offer about an actor’s relationship with his voice over artist and then his latest offering ‘Ki & Ka’ put a man in a ‘so-called’ woman’s world and vice versa only to normalize it. Taking the flag of feminism forward where Balki tends to believe feminism needs men too, he’s set to sell us ‘PadMan’ that deals with the life and times of Arunachalam Muruganantham who created sanitary pads on his own initially for his wife and then the entire community which took him to international fame. The film stars Akshay Kumar, Radhika Apte and Sonam Kapoor which release on 9th February 2018.
Let’s see what he had to say to Cinespeaks about ‘PadMan’, his actor and co-producer Akshay Kumar, his previous films and more:
1. How do you marry a message oriented subject with an entertaining film?
R. Balki: Nobody understands your message through a film unless it’s entertaining. Keeping the film emotional, engaging and funny was important. It was important to keep it (PadMan) in that zone and not the preachy zone.
2. How was it working with Akshay Kumar in PadMan?
R. Balki: Akshay asked me if I wanted to make a film on the subject. I was skeptical about doing a biopic. I realized that I may not have another opportunity to do another film on this topic. This is the first time in the world mensural hygiene is being talked through commercial cinema. Akshay Kumar solves all the problems for you. Firstly he’s bang on with his character, the character he plays is very simple in his thinking, he may not be too intellectual, the point he makes is very pure. If you see the film you’ll be assured that nobody could have played the part except Akshay. Making this film wasn’t risky as compared to actual life Muruganantham has lived. If a person can lead a film like that, what’s does it take to make a film like it. A man is a thriller by himself, entertaining in his own way.
When you have a big star automatically it reaches a large number of people. That many people would be listening to the film, which is phenomenal. Especially these kind of subjects, that deliver and change something. They’re the most important things in this world. Akshay is doing a terrific thing by embracing such topics.
I like the way Akshay works, for this film I was approached to direct. I was zapped by how incredible an actor Akshay is. He doesn’t necessarily come across as a typically intelligent superstar who strategizes his every move. He’s spontaneous and has a very positive attitude.
3. Did you have any inhibitions before and during making this film on how the subject will be received by the people?
R. Balki: You’re always scared while making a film of what will people say. We are talking of people as they are today. If you ask a person if they want to see an ad of a Pad, they would say ‘No’. But once you show the same Pad to them they might have opinions on how that Pad could have been made better. For every change to happen a conversation has to start. Once the conversation is going on, people get comfortable about the subject. You can never make a film of what people are already comfortable talking. In order to start this conversation, we needed an entertaining film with a star for people to be comfortable talking about it. Audiences have not have uttered the word ‘Pad’ as much as they have in the last 4-5 months because of PadMan. The title itself has the word, you’re talking about pads openly. It’s a family film and when you see a Father, Mother and Daughter talking about it, chances are the next time the Father sees the girl he will have the courage to ask her if she needs him to get her pads. There’s an incident of a father who became best of friends with his daughter after one day he showed concern to her and enquired if she needs a Pad. People aren’t scared to talk about it, they just need a push to get into an initiated conversation.
All human beings have issues. My films have been about the character’s personal journey. ‘PadMan’ may only be the real social issue that I’ve made a film on because the character’s life itself is one.
4. Is this a strategy of yours to only work with stars?
R. Balki: When I wrote ‘Cheeni Kum’, ‘Paa’ and ‘Shamitabh’ I had Amitabh Bachchan in mind. Tabu may not be a big star like Deepika (Padukone) but she’s an incredible actress. When Paa came, Vidya Balan wasn’t as big a star as she’s today. Barring the Bachchan surname, I didn’t think of any other star while scripting a movie. I’ve worked with people I admire and I’m a fan of.
5. What is the target audience for PadMan? How relevant and involving it would be for the men?
R. Balki: This is a family film and one where girls get together to come watch a film. There are a lot of men who watch our films and I’ve become more civilized and cool about it. Men are trying to be more emotional as we progress. Men maybe more affected by this film than a lot of women. For women it is see this is what we go through, but whom do you want to show it to? A man! So a man has to come watch this film.
There are people who watch ghastly dubbed films on their mobile phones as a source of relaxation during breaks, I saw a bunch of security guys while watching the trailer, talking about having seen a pad in their wives’ wardrobes. Others commenting yes I saw it with my daughter too. Such strong headed men talking about it, is success!
6. How did you first become aware of the pad and how much of a difference you’ve noticed since the trailer release in this conversation on mensural hygiene?
R. Balki: When I started my advertising career with a film on pads. I heard and discovered of it in more detail then. It was revolting for me. I comfortably buy them for my wife Gauri (Shinde) and ignore the stares I get even today. Researching and associating with the various NGOs and institutes for this film we realized the depth of this problem. The issue can only be addressed by making people talk about it freely.
We are the first film that will be releasing in Iraq after many years, every Middle East territory is showcasing this film which is a more conservative part of the world. There is not one thing they plan to censor because they want every woman to watch it. And governments only take these subjects in when they know their people are ready to acknowledge such topics. The issue exists everywhere. A country like UK has mensural hygiene as one of their top issues. It is a global issue.
7. How was it working with Sonam Kapoor?
R. Balki: Sonam is damn cool. She’s doing some of the most nobles things without making them sound big. She’s doing them with her comfort and in her own way.
8. Tell us something about your interaction with Arunachalam Muruganantham.
R. Balki: Muruganantham has a lateral quip on everything under the sun. The first time I met him it was at his workshop, he then invited us for lunch to his place where Twinkle and I went. As we were heading back to the airport, I realized there was grease on his cream shirt and khaki trousers. I asked him where he was heading and he said I’m going to deliver a lecture at a college and that’s when I evidently looked at his shirt, I joked to him about wearing black next time and he replied to me saying let’s show them how I tried I am to which I laughed.
9. How has Twinkle Khanna been involved in the film?
R. Balki: Twinkle Khanna was the one who worked on getting Muruganantham to agreeing to his biopic. She then went onto writing her book and I went onto writing the script. We finished at the same time and found that we had two different versions of the same man’s story. Twinkle has done all the background work and she’s presenting the film. She’s heading the conversations with platforms like various NGOs, her speech at Oxford and other people who have queries about the film.
10. What do you have to say about the date shift that happened due to ‘Padmaavat’ and the box office clash with ‘Aiyaary’?
R. Balki: Initially Robot 2.0 was supposed to release on January 26th so we had decided to come in the month of April. But since that got delayed and our film was ready, we planned to take the Republic Day weekend. When Aiyaary took the same date, we were fine with it because it was a good enough space for two good films to be pitted together. But when ‘Padmaavat’ decided to come, given the subject and the problems it was facing, and the fact that people who had never seen a film too wanted to watch it, they needed those many screens to even recover from the banned theatres. As films we may not have suffered in terms of collections bu coming together but the conversation that we want our film to have would have been lost. Our subject would not have won over the debate of the Karni Sena issue.
There will be audience for both PadMan and Aiyaari. Let’s see what works and what doesn’t.
11. A film called ‘Phullu’ dealt with the same subject. What do you have to say about that film?
R. Balki: There are two documentaries that exist on Arunachalam’s life. ‘Phullu’ makers have claimed their story doesn’t necessarily represent that of his. Arunachalam has not given the official rights to anyone. So it would have been illegal for them to base the film on his life.
12. Your film ‘Shamitabh’ didn’t necessarily work like your other films at the box office. What do you think must have been the reason?
R. Balki: When ‘Shamitabh’ was released, people cursed me for the ending of the film down south. In South, a Hindi film Shamitabh ran to packed houses, people loved the film as they worship Dhanush. People came out crying for his character. Similarly there was this film ‘Sadma’ with a similar ending that didn’t even run for a week. I refuse to believe people don’t like tragedies. I realized pain effects people a lot. Audiences tend to thank the artist who has moved them through their characterization where they feel a certain emotion and cry it out. There was this another ’Naan Kadavul’, it was about how beggars are deformed and made to beg on streets, it was smash hit. It may not run one day in Bollywood. Sometimes people don’t want to feel romantic and happy. They sometimes want to feel pained.