– Yaser Khan
Akshay Kumar has delivered another Hit in the form of his latest release ‘PadMan‘ which also stars Radhika Apte and Sonam Kapoor. He’s one of the only few actors who can sell a film with a social issue to his audiences with much ease. A superstar with a difference and an ultimate Khiladi of romance, action, comedy and drama, Akshay Kumar has proved himself yet again by playing the reel version of a character inspired by Arunachalam Muruganantham. This R. Balki film has garnered appreciation from critics and audiences with the film crossing the 50 crores mark.
Celebrating the success of the film with so many emotions was Akshay Kumar who sat down to give insights on menstrual hygiene and more to Cinespeaks. Here’s what he had to say:
Q. Akshay, you’be been successful in delivering with ‘PadMan’ both as a actor and at the box office. But the stigma around the theme still exists, what do you have to say about that?
Akshay Kumar: The audiences and critics have loved the film but there are certain people in regions like Bihar, parts of UP and Haryana who are still hesitant to address the issue. Men aren’t allowing their wives to go and watch the movie. The idea of ‘PadMan’ was to break the taboo. The intention was to make women insist their men to go to the movie along with them and say there’s nothing wrong in what they go through. The men too need to feel responsible for buying pads for the women. Usually stars don’t meet up after the film has released, but I wanted to talk not only about the appreciation but also the fact the World Bank has taken an initiative to showcase the film to every village in India and we have over 6,42,000 villages and they’ll watch the film free of cost. I just want people to realize even if the film is about sanitary pads, it’s not something unnatural. There’s nothing to be ashamed about.
Q. Tell us something about the sanitary pads vending machine that you recently installed.
Akshay Kumar: In India the number is 82% but it’s lesser in other parts of the world. We’ve launched a pad vending machine in all the State Transport stations of Maharashtra. We are targeting around 120 depots to have these machines.
Q. As actors, do you and your co-stars feel more responsible in being the torchbearers of breaking this taboo by making more visits to rural India and educating people about the issue?
Akshay Kumar: The problem is nobody is interested in listening to speeches. People are more interested in watching a film and taking notice of what happens in it. They don’t want to see documentaries or hear politicians out. If we actors give speeches, they might just come to see us and not focus on the speech. People have watched ‘Toilet: Ek Prem Katha’ rather than hearing about it and being inspired. Lot of government officials go to a village and sit down with a projector and show ‘Toilet: Ek Prem Katha’ to the people of the village, and they pick up things. There’s a hero, a heroine, songs, action and gesture of making toilets. Entertainment is the best method to give out a message.Maharashtra government has started pad banks where people give sanitary pads to be distributed to the needful. One can also deposit money for the purchase of pads. There are things like these that we are doing which can actually bring real change.
Q. What is the scope of social issue oriented films in our country? Do you think your recent films have opened the gates for them?
Akshay Kumar: The audiences are slowly accepting these issues. Toilets are a much easier subject to put through but not sanitary pads. There are lot of villages too that aren’t allowing their women to watch the film and talk about mensuration.
Q. Pakistan has banned the film. What do you have to say about that?
Akshay Kumar: I request them to let their people watch the film. It’s an important subject and there is nothing wrong in this film. I’m sure one day the film will release in Pakistan.
Q. What makes you say ‘Yes’ for doing films that are the need of the hour? What inspired you to make ‘PadMan’?
Akshay Kumar: This is not the end of these issues. Be it a toilet or a sanitary pads, I’m doing my best towards these causes. For me this is not a movie, I’ve felt about these issues. I felt about pads 2 years back. I had never held a pad. The figure of 82% women in India not having access to menstrual hygiene for having no knowledge and money, inspired me to make this film. During menstruation, they aren’t allowed in temples and kitchens, they’re asked to sleep out in a veranda and this was all shocking to me.
Q. During and post shoot of the film, are there any memorable incidents or gestures that you would like to recall that happened?
Akshay Kumar: I was shooting with a local guy who had to hold a pad for scene and he ran away. When we called him upto ask what had happened, he replied saying ‘Hamare Yahaan Paap Ko Hath Nahi Lagate’. This is the mindset that they have. But the bright side is that there are families who’ve gone together for the movie. I have a friend in Delhi who watched the film and called me up saying he’s going to make a point that along with the salary he’ll gift a packet of sanitary pads to his maids. For them it might be big and for us it is nominal, this gesture made the maid teary eyed.
Q. The finale speech in ‘PadMan’ is one of the most uplifting things from the film the audiences took back. How did you make it look so natural?
Akshay Kumar: The finale speech was written but lot of things came impromptu as well. It’s an 11 and a half minutes speech. We scheduled to commence the shoot at 9 am in the morning and finish by 6 pm. A thought struck me to finish the speech in one go and I requested Balki for it. I never thought I could do it but with the first take we got the entire thing right and by 11 am we packed up. The whole speech is in one take. I’ll request the team to release the uncut version sometime on YouTube.
Q. Have the women around you become more open about their issues? How do you think ‘PadMan’ has truly helped in bringing about a change?
Akshay Kumar: Women around me were always open about their problems. It was I who was shy. Now I’m open to their problems and it comes with a push that needs to wake the person up to these problems. Somebody has to tell you. Lot of parents don’t talk about it. We need to be open as a society. We shouldn’t hide these things. One needn’t feel ashamed. PadMan is a love story, the man manufactured a sanitary pad for the love of his wife and her hygiene. People make Taj Mahal and what not. Not just a pad, he’s made a Pad Machine, which he’s distributed to 4,600 villages and made lives of women better there.
Q. Should menstruation be a solid part of educational curriculum?
Akshay Kumar: There are sex educational periods but no classes for menstruation. Even if they have those, I’ve learnt that they are only conducted for girls. That’s the worst part. Boys need to know about this too. There are cases to boys teasing girls for their periods which have led to suicides. they shouldn’t be excluded.
Q. Having done back to back Nationalism evoking films and movies on social issues. Do you feel typecated now?
Akshay Kumar: I want to do various things. I’m doing a war movie for the first time in my life with ‘Kesari‘. I’m waiting to start Housefull which will be a vacation of sorts. PadMan has impacted me as a human being. I need to keep on changing. I don’t want to be typecasted anymore, it’s been done already by the reference of being an Action hero. I was getting similar roles. I want to constantly change myself.
Q. ‘PadMan’ was pitted with Padmaavat and then Aiyaary for a clash. We are aware of your gesture for Padmaavat but have things gotten ugly with ‘Aiyaary’ makers for you?
Akshay Kumar: I was having lunch with the Aiyaary team a few days back. The word ‘Clash’ is taken out of proportion. There’s nothing ugly between us. Clashes will continue to happen. There 180 films and only 52 weeks. I don’t know if there’s a mathematician who can help us divide the calendar, 2-3 films will definitely come together. in the 80s and 90s, films used to celebrate golden and silver Jubliees at the box office but today the fate is decided within 4 days.
Q. What is that you are set out to aim with ‘PadMan’?
Akshay Kumar: For me the most important part is that the movie should go on. People need to relate to the subject. It’s an important subject. I hope within one year the 82% mark will come down to 10% and that’ll be because of PadMan, that’ll be our true success.