In a consumerist world, it’s easy to take everyday staples for granted. If you’re a male in particular, then you rarely think about menstrual pads, let alone how they’re made or who made them. R. Balthi’s latest film, PadMan, tells the story of a revolutionary menstrual pad manufacturer in India. It’s based on Twinkle Khanna’s novelization of the real life of Tamil Nadu inventor Arunachalam Muruganantham.
Akshay Kumar plays Lakshmi Chauhan, a devoted husband who, “Can’t even be away from his wife for 5 days.” These 5 days refer to when his wife Gayatri (Radhika Apte) is on her monthly period, and thus must stay sequestered outside, as per local customs. She uses a filthy rag as a homemade menstrual pad. Lakshmi comes to learn about the severe health risks of homemade menstrual pads- and the high cost of store-brand sanitary pads. Wanting to help his beloved Gayatri, the handyman Lakhsmi sets out on a quixotic quest to invent his own pads.
Arunachalam Muruganantham is awarded the Padma Shri for his invention.
Apart from the fact that Lakshmi is a poor rural man with no secondary education or even Internet, the biggest obstacle he faces during his creative process is opposition from women, especially those in his household. Menstruation is a big taboo for women in rural India (and, indeed, many parts of the world). As a man, Lakshmi creates a gigantic scandal with his undertaking. It doesn’t help that he lacks any insights into the female perspective on the issue.
Lakshmi’s good-willed naiveté and stubbornness are common traits of those trying to change the world. His efforts to beta-test his product sometimes verge a little on the creepy side, though it’s always out of a genuine desire to help women. Laksmhi is the embodiment of the mad scientist, a selfless genius who only wants others to see what he sees. He has no patience for ancient cultural mores or religious charlatans; i.e. “If only I were a saint, they would wear what I give them.” In his supreme confidence for his vision, Lakshmi also falls a little bit into “mansplaining,” failing to regard the advanced gender dynamics of the topic of menstruation and how he comes off when talking to women. Fortunately, he is eventually helped out by Pari (Sonam Kapoor), a smart young woman who becomes “his first customer” and a whole lot more.
The film could have easily fallen into sappy sentimentality. Thankfully, R. Balthi and Akshay Kumar keep the story fun. There are some hilarious menstrual pad montages that you won’t find anywhere else. Akshay Kumar does a great job of portraying Lakshmi as an affable, caring husband with a timeless smile and wit. The movie does Arunachalam Muruganantham’s amazing life story justice. If you’re a male, I especially encourage you to watch PadMan to get a glimpse into a health problem that billions of women face every month- and that many are culturally castigated for.