Balki directs Akshay Kumar, Radhika Apte and Sonam Kapoor in Padman, the story based on Padma Shri awardee Arunachalam Muruganantham, the innovator of low-cost sanitary pads.
Balki and Swanand Kirkire base the story on the short story written by Twinkle Khanna the wife of Akshay Kumar and also the producer of the movie. Akshay Kumar plays Lakshmikant Chauhan the eponymous Padman. Lakshmi is newly married and besotted with his wife Gayatri played by Radhika Apte. When she experiences her periods for the first time at her married home, he tries to talk her out of using a dirty rag and get her to use a store bought sanitary pad. She balks at price of it and tries to talk him out of it due to the high price. Lakshmi then embarks upon a quest to prototype his low-cost sanitary pad. The journey that Lakshmi undertakes all the way from being shamed out of his village to delivering a rousing “Linglish” speech at the united nation is fascinating.
Akshay Kumar is fantastic as Lakshmi and brings a level of earnestness that lifts every scene he is in. The opening sequence song “Aaj se Teri” sets up Akshay’s character arc where he earnestly tries alleviate every single one of her problems, building a wooden seat for her to sit on his bicycle, a monkey toy onion chopper. He might be lacking in the formal education department but he makes up for that in his inquisitiveness. Radhika Apte plays Gayatri and she couldn’t be more of a contrast to Akshay Kumar. She is one note, whiny and overplays the ever silently suffering wife. For almost every scene she is in she is either crying her eyes out or passive aggressively berating Lakshmi for trying to help her. The whole “shame is worse than disease” cudgel she keeps beating over Lakshmi and the audience’s head gets really tiresome. Sonam Kapoor who makes an entry in the second half of the movie moves breezily from one scene to another. She is entirely believable as the college student who sees potential in Lakshmi’s reinvention of the Pad making machine and immensely likable – no small fete considering her previous work. Amitabh Bachchan who is a permanent fixture in every Balki movie chews up the scenery in the 2 minutes he is on screen. His screen presence is unparalleled and his baritone a calming balm on the frayed nerves after Apte’s annoying performance.
The first half is hugely problematic with its pacing and overly regressive storyline. The whole premise of women using unhygienic rags is setup so tactlessly that it becomes impossible to feel anything for either the women who are suffering this plight or the one man who is trying his best to change the status quo. It is only when Lakshmi is left to his own devices that the movie really picks up steam in the second half. The writing is abysmal and the epiphanies that Lakshmi experiences when his boss at the garage spouts pearls of wisdoms is too on the nose. If not for Sonam Kapoor and Akshay Kumar the movie would have fallen in the same unfulfilled promise category as Balki’s previous Ki and Kaa. The music is catchy and does well to buttress the flailing script and the camera work is fantastic. Every scene is alive and vibrant. The locales of Madhya Pradesh lend a wonderful aesthetic backdrop to the rural setting lifting it out of poverty porn.
A fascinating story, a decent second half and a strong acting turn from Akshay Kumar and Sonam makes this bearable outing. Balki ought to take directing lessons from his wife Gauri Shinde who knows how to let story translate on screen organically. Also I wish Balki took a page out of Oliver Stone’s book and got the real Padman deliver a final speech.
R Balki directs Kareena Kapoor Khan and Arjun Kapoor in a gender-bender movie Ki & Ka aimed at breaking the stereotypes the society assigns to the male and female sexes especially when seen under the microscope of a martial setup.
We are introduced to Kabir played by Arjun Kapoor and Kia played by Kareena Kapoor Khan. After the meet-cute they start to get to know one another over cheap whiskey. Kia is ambitious and doesn’t want relationships and marriage to slow her career down. Kabir is chilled out and wants to be like his mother, a homemaker. He has no career aspirations. Kia is a focused, ambitious career oriented girl who thinks that marriages are the death knell for women and their careers. They decide to get married out of convenience the story explores the strain of matrimony and daily life on their gender-swapped relationship. The premise couldn’t get more exciting, especially in today’s context where women are slowly chipping away at the glass ceilings and men are evolving from being cave dwellers.
But nearly every aspect of this movie is a nice idea taken to such an extreme that it becomes insufferable. Take Kabir’s fascination with trains for instance, Balki takes what is a wonderfully whimsical idiosyncrasy and dials it up to an 11. A tastefully kitschy apartment is turned into a train museum where food and drinks are served via toy trains, the wallpaper is a diagram of a steam engine and on and on and on. The idea that Kabir doesn’t want to be a part of the corporate rat race and is content to being a house husband is taken to the extreme where is hanging out with the other housewives from the building and hosting kitty parties and turning into a personal trainer to the kitty club to earn some money. Kia is no better. When she is not pointing at PowerPoint slides like one of those stock photos she is freaking out over a pregnancy scare by being horrible to Kabir, being insufferable when Kabir (unconvincingly and without preamble) feels jealous and neglected when Kia takes him along to a marketing conference in Dubai. What promised to be a refreshing look at modern day matrimony is essentially reverse-regressive where “the man” wears pretty blouses and “the woman” has a beard. From being progressively feminist where “Streeling Puling Same Thing” the movie veers into Femi-Nazi territory.
The dialogues are possibly some of the worst written and equally badly delivered from recent memory. The screenplay is choppy and the tête-à-tête between Kabir and Kia is so disjointed you as an audience cannot feel for either of the characters. Kareena looks radiant and is styled to perfection but her overreactions which were charming in Jab We Met are just plain clumsy here. She is unconvincing as the career obsessed Kia and comes off as someone going through the motions. She is good in parts where her interactions with Arjun Kapoor aren’t forced into the reverse stereotype. Arjun Kapoor is totally lacking in charm and wit and is forced into poorly conceptualised role that is at odds with his masculinity. He lacks a certain sense of self-assurity which is required to carry off a role which would be subjected to snide comments as it challenges the social norms. Instead all we get is pan-faced expression. His outburst at an off-hand comment Kareena makes about stay-at-home wives is as unconvincing as Kareena’s outburst at his allegations of her wanting to sleep with an executive from New York to further her career. The supporting characters are also poorly written. Swaroop Sampat and Rajit Kapoor from the golden age of Indian television series like Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi and Byomkesh Bakshi respectively are given the most cringe inducing scenes. The first time we need Swaroop Sampat she hams it up and then advises her daughter Kia to consider pre-marital sex. Rajit Kapoor does one better when he tells his son if he should look down his boxers in case he has forgotten he is a man when his son Kabir tells him of his plans to get married to Kia and live as a house husband. I hate it when movies do product placement and Ki and Ka is a essentially a long and pointless vehicle to push as many products as they possibly can and when it all finishes they still manage to push Virgin trains through. This is just in poor taste.
This could have been a milestone movie for furthering the cause of gender equality had it been dealt with in a more nuanced fashion. Simply swapping stereotypes doesn’t break them. The same basic premise without the forced strife at one another’s growth, a little more compassion from both characters and the movie would have greatly benefited. The man content at not being a corporate rat finds success as a domestic-god, the woman a cut-throat corporate ladder climber who doesn’t taunt her husband for his lack of ambition. At the end two people in a marriage who thrive in the choices they made for themselves and who basked in each other’s company. Wouldn’t that be a story you’d want to watch? Well in the immortal words of John Lennon:
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one