From the director of Paa and Ki & Ka, comes a power-packed and an inspiring story of Padman. R. Balki is one of the most sought out director in today’s time. His movies have always dealt with unconventional subjects and the same goes for Padman. The movie stars Akshay Kumar in the lead and is based on the life story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, who is responsible for creating low-cost sanitary pad-making machines.

Choosing a critical topic of menstrual hygiene, the movie has ignited conversations and awareness about the subject. The movie also sees Radhika Apte and Sonam Kapoor in critical roles. As the movie hits the silver screen we caught up with the director to get more insights on the film. In a candid conversation, R. Balki shared his thoughts on the entertainment factor of the film, the changing sensitivities of the audience and much more.

R. Balki

R. Balki

How important is it to bring in the entertainment factor, even though the movie is more message-driven?

It is very easy to be carried away and just concentrate on the entertainment factor, but the message is very important. I think nobody receives the message unless it is entertaining. Unless you entertain people whatever noble thing you want to say is waste of time. My job was to keep Padman entertaining and emotional, engaging and funny. So, the movie has got to be in that entertaining zone rather than a preachy zone.

Were you hesitant to pick-up a taboo subject for a film?

For me that was not the problem, for me, the question was whether or not should I do a biopic. Then I realised we won’t get an opportunity to do a film on menstrual hygiene again. This is the first film in the world to do something like this on a commercial level.

How does Akshay Kumar fit in the shoes of Arunachalam Muruganantham and do you think without Akshay Kumar the movie wouldn’t have a wide reach?

First of all, he is bang on in the character. He is very simplistic in his thinking, he doesn’t ponder and strategize, he is very simple, very pure. I don’t think anybody could have played the role besides Akshay. Muruganantham is similar, he is simple. His life is so entreating, he is not preachy, but he is thriller by himself.

And yes, without Akshay there wouldn’t be any reach. When you have a big star, people will automatically come and see the film.

R. Balki with Akshay Kumar

R. Balki with Akshay Kumar

But this is a topic that is such a taboo, do you think the audiences will come to theatres?

We are always scared of what will people say, we never ask what people want to see. I feel for every change to happen somebody must do it first. Once it happens people become very comfortable talking about it. What is the point of making a film about something that people are already comfortable with? People want help to get comfortable with the topic and all you need is a film with a mainstream star, which is entertaining. I will give an example, I don’t think anybody has said the word pad as many numbers of times as they have said in the last four-five months. People are not scared, they want somebody to talk first. One person starts talking about a pad loudly and someone will join in, that is the mentality of life.

Is the audience changing, are they more accepting when it comes to sensitive topics?

When I started my advertising career one of the first campaigns that I was working on was for pads. During our research, I heard so much that was ghastly and, I was really shaken. But life went on. But when I heard the story of Muruganantham and all the NGOs that were doing research, that is when you realize the depth of the problem. You have to address the problem by actually making people talk about it freely.

I was happy about one thing that has happened. This is the first Hindi film that will be released in Iraq and other middle east areas after a very long time. Every country is taking the film. This shows that society is ready to change. Governments don’t change unless they sense people are ready for it. When we are asking questions like- are we hesitant to make such films, then these questions are from the past. Today the level of sensitivity is a lot more, people are ready and more accepting. They just need a nudge.

Twinkle Khanna, Arunachalam Muruganantham & R. Balki (From L to R)

Twinkle Khanna, Arunachalam Muruganantham & R. Balki (From L to R)

Lastly, what role did Twinkle Khanna play in the making of the movie, she is one of the producers?

She was involved in getting Muruganantham to agree, but then she went about writing her book and we went about writing the film. We met once we were done, we both finished at the same time. We found that we had two different versions of the same man. The book is a different version and the film is a different version, they have nothing to do with each other.

Akshay is the producer, he is active with me. Twinkle is the one who is presenting the film, in the sense she has done all the background and she spent time understanding the topic, speaking to a lot of NGOs, promoting the film etc. The hardcore production is done by Akshay and me.