On Monday, ST got an exclusive interview with Akshay Kumar in his car while he was on his way to a promotion event for his film Pad Man in the city. The actor shares that he is determined to eradicate the superstitions and taboos associated with menstruation.
A candid conversation with actor Akshay Kumar is a sheer delight. And more so now, when the actor is passionately promoting his film Pad Man. An adaptation of a short story by Twinkle Khanna from her book The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad, it is based on Tamil Nadu-based social activist Arunachalam Muruganantham, who made affordable sanitary napkins for women. Akshay plays the real life hero in this R Balki directorial. His wife, Twinkle, is donning the hat of a producer for the first time. The film, which will be releasing on January 25, also stars Sonam Kapoor and Radhika Apte, with Amitabh Bachchan playing a cameo.
The humble Khiladi found some time to speak to Sakal Times in his car while traveling from one venue to another in Pune on Monday.
GET RID OF THE TABOO
The very first thing the 50-year-old actor asserts is that periods is not a ‘sensitive’ issue. “It is time to get rid of those taboos attached to periods and it’s time to treat it maturely. Also, women should not shy away from talking about the issue and certainly should not whisper about it,” he urges.
The actor confesses that he had no awkwardness while doing this film. “I was not shy of wearing a pink panty or holding a sanitary pad in my hand because getting periods is a natural thing. It’s high time people stopped whispering about it. I’m doing a film on the subject because nobody has spoken about it before, and people are still hesitant to openly discuss periods, which is a normal biological process in women,” says Akshay who will next be seen in Kesari.
The actor claims that he was quite unaware of the menstruation hygiene since his family never discussed it openly when he was growing up. He held a sanitary napkin in his hand only two years ago. “Menstruating women are considered ritually impure and polluted, and they are often isolated as untouchables. They are not allowed to touch pickle, enter the kitchen, or go to temples. Many young girls drop out of school because they don’t have supplies to manage their periods. Around 82 per cent women in the rural and poverty-stricken India use mud, ash and dirty cloth to manage bleeding. It is shocking, horrifying and disturbing as this causes health issues, often leading to serious damage to their reproductive system.”
Further talking about the lack of facility, Akshay says that even if sanitary napkins are available, they are expensive. “Looking at the poverty of our country, where a big chunk of society struggles to make ends meet, spending money on menstruation hygiene products seems impossible. They have to make a choice between feeding their family, fulfilling their basic needs and keeping themselves safe during their menstruation cycle. Hence they overlook their own health and safety. But it’s time they realised that their own health must be their priority,” he insists.
Recently the argument on making sanitary napkins tax free was abuzz. When asked about the same, the actor says, “Women want the government to make sanitary napkins tax free, but I urge them to make sanitary pads free of cost, especially in the rural parts of India.”
CHOOSING THE FILM
Pad Man is making people think about periods in a positive way and already garnered a lot of appreciation on social media. The trailer has some humour in it. “We have an entertaining film because we want everyone to see it and enjoy it, but also take home a very important lesson with them. Like Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Pad Man is also a love story between a man and his wife. In Toilet... he makes a toilet for his wife by going against the social norms, in this film, he makes a machine which makes sanitary pads for his wife,” says the actor.
So is doing socially relevant films a conscious choice? Answers Akshay, “As celebrities, it’s important for us to talk about certain topics, However, I am also doing Housefull which is an out-and-out comedy. I don’t only do films with a social message. Whenever a script touches my heart and I know it can benefit society, I lap it up.”
PORTRAYING ARUNACHALAM MURUGANANTHAM
Akshay says that he didn’t have to really put in a lot of effort to prepare for the character. “I just had to go with the flow of the script, the conviction of my director, and what vision he had in his mind for the film, the story and the character. Besides that, I had seen a lot videos of Arunachalam Muruganantham and listened to his speeches as part of my homework. Meeting him was enough for me to understand how I needed to essay the character,” says the Special 26 actor.
When asked about his experience of meeting the real Pad Man, he says it was his wife Twinkle who found him. “He was very happy and amazed that we could make a script of his work. We are all very happy to make a film on the India’s Menstrual Man, who fought all odds, faced so many challenges and yet managed to invent an easy-to-use machine worth Rs 60,000 for producing low-cost sanitary pads. His machine has created jobs for women in rural India. It was difficult to show his entire journey through the film but it is our attempt to tell his story,” informs Akshay.
EDUCATION THROUGH CINEMA
Whether it is Lipstick Under My Burkha, Pink, Toilet Ek Prem Katha and now Pad Man, of late, a lot of films are talking about subjects that are important.
Commenting on cinema as a tool of social awareness, he says, “It is a powerful and important medium to bring about social change. It has a mass connect and wide reach. Since India is an immensely populated country, it becomes difficult to reach every corner. But because of cinema, we can reach a large number of people.”
PADMAN VS PADMAAVAT
The much-awaited Padmaavat is finally releasing on the same day as Pad Man (January 25). When asked if it bothers him, the Baby actor says, “Both the films are important in their own ways. While Padmaavat talks about our rich history, Pad Man talks about how our future should be — a country where every woman has an access to pads. So, I think people should watch both the films.”