“We don’t need to tell our women anything. It’s the men, who we need to be talking to.”~ Akshay Kumar
"..forget tax free, I think the commodity should be free." ~ Akshay Kumar
Akshay Kumar has aced all genres of Hindi films from romantic, comedy to action in his 27 year career. He has been recently seen dabbling with subjects of social awareness and social change. His previous film Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, revolved around a man’s journey of building a private toilet in his house for his wife and his upcoming film- Padman, has started a dialogue about Women health care and sanitation in the country, as it discusses openly the tabooed subject of menstruation.
Based on Tamil Nadu-based social activist Arunachalam Muruganantham, who revolutionized the concept of menstrual hygiene in rural India by creating a low-cost sanitary napkins machine, Padman is directed by R. Balki and is produced by Akshay Kumar, Twinkle Khanna, Gauri Shinde, Anil Naidu, Prashant Shah ,Prernaa Arora & Arjun N. Kapoor.
We talk to Akshay Kumar about his thoughts on the subject and what he thinks needs to change for the country to grow.
Give us your opinions on the subject and how the concept of menstruation and a women’s health care is dealt with in our country.
There are cultures in India that celebrate the occasion of a girls first period as a blessing. The girl receives gifts, there is an occasion, and the girl remembers it for the rest of her life. And then there is a culture where all this is hidden and shamed, so the girl keeps thinking that something wrong is happening to her. She loses her confidence. She feels shameful of this thing that is happening to her.
We are trying to change that by talking about it in the film. If you want the country to be strong you have to make our girls stronger. There’s no point investing in defense equipment if we are not working towards making our women stronger.
How much impact do you think a film can have in changing policies around a subject like this?
When I made Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, it was a dangerous subject. But it did make a lot of changes, it gave a lot of people reasons and the push to make private toilets for their wives, their mothers, sisters and daughters. Today if there are Memes on social media discussing sanitary pads, it is a victory in itself. No one was talking about it openly, women were also ashamed about openly discussing it. Today if the whole media has sat down to take my interviews and is ready to discuss it openly because of my film, it is a victory in itself. I don’t care what business the film does. But I do care, that on social media people are talking about this. There are men discussing with each other about the film. And that’s great. That’s the impact a film can have on things.
“The possibility of war is slimmer than the reality of menstruating women in our country.”
What do you really think about the taxes levied on sanitary pads? Do you think policy makers should watch this film and reflect on their decisions? Would you get into a dialogue with these policy makers about it?
I don’t understand why there should be any taxes. The possibility of war is slimmer than the reality of menstruating women in our country. So if even a small percentage of our defense budget is invested on making free Sanitary pads for women, we will be solving and dealing with a greater problem at hand. 10% of women can afford the prices of a sanitary pad in our country. But there are 90% who cannot afford it. That’s the percentage we have to address. So forget tax free, I think the commodity should be free.
The film is based on Arunachalam Muruganantham, and a lot of dialogues are adapted into the film from his speeches and the talks he has delivered. How closely did you follow Arunachalam Muruganantham and incorporate him into the film and your character?
Balki wrote the film. He did all the research when writing the film. I just met Arunachalam Muruganantham. I just understood him and I just loved him. I loved how he talks. I was fascinated by the innovator in him. A machine that costs Crores to make, he made it for sixty thousand rupees. And he started off by making it for his wife. That’s all he wanted to do. He didn’t want to see his wife going through trouble.
There are women in India who use all sorts of things during their period. I urge everyone to watch this film with their families. To understand the plight of what a woman goes through in our country and in our homes. I wasn’t aware of a lot of things either. As a child I was never asked to go and buy sanitary pads. I was made aware of a lot of things one and a half year back. I was shocked when I spoke to women about the things they used to control their bleeding and not stain. They showed me dry grass, rags and ash. That’s what they use in remote parts and when they cannot afford sanitary pads. People from other countries laugh at us. It’s extremely shameful.
Arunachalam Muruganantham Is a great man. He is a man of common sense. He used nothing but common sense to make the machine. You and I could also have made the machine. If we only use our common sense we all can be Arunachalam.
In a city like Bombay it’s easier to sit like this and talk about this issue. But in smaller cities, more conservative cities how do you plan to market and place this film?
I have left it. I have made a film and have left it upon people to watch it and understand from it. There is nothing dirty in the film. It’s not crude. It’s not uncomfortable to watch. You can show your 8 year old daughter the film. It is an entertaining and nice film, about an innovator, it is about a husband, who loves his wife and cares about her. It’s a real subject and it’s a beautiful love story, with a message.
I’m sure in smaller cities where it is necessary, it will itself resonate and do its job. I didn’t try very hard with Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, either. I just made the film and there has been a considerable improvement in the public defecation situation since then. I’m not saying that has happened solely because of the film, but such impacts happen.
“We don’t not believe in hiding things from our children.”
How do you explain to your children about a topic like this? What do you convey to them when you’re making a film about menstruation and Sanitary pads?
Their mother has already explained everything to them. We don’t not believe in hiding things from our children. My son knows everything there is to know. We present it as a natural thing, because it is. I am not living a dual life where I openly discuss the subject in public and keep it hidden from my children.
A few years back this film might have been for a niche audience and would be treated far differently. Today we are making a subject on a film like that in a commercial way. Do you think audience has become more accepting?
People want change. They are expecting it and demanding it. Our society is accepting of change now. And we need to offer them that.
A few months back a digital agency in Bombay started a campaign for declaring a holiday for women on the first day of their periods. Do you support that cause?
I think you should leave that upon the woman. It depends in the woman. Some women bleed profusely and some women can deal with it. So that should be their call.
What was your concern and fear when you decided to do the film?
I had this feeling of doubt, for 30 seconds when I had to wear the pink panties with the pad. It was that 30 seconds of awkwardness, other than that I had not a moment of doubt or fear with respect to the film.
Do you think films should be a way to contribute towards social change and now with your status as a big actor you can give back to the society in a more impactful way than before?
I always wanted to make films like these and give back to the society. But I didn’t have much to give then. Now I have the money, the right kind of attention so I am producing this kind of content.
What do you want to tell the Women of the country through this film?
We don’t need to tell our women anything. It’s the men, who we need to be talking to. The women know everything. It’s the men who have all these constructs and these barriers that we have to break. Do this don’t do that, all this needs to end. And that will end when the men of our country think differently.