The last movie in our Bollywood Month and at least it has the decency to have some half-way good songs. Not much dancing though. It shares many characteristics of the movies we’ve reviewed this week (melodramatic, colourful, over two hours long) but sets itself apart by being less about that ol’ devil called love and more about… sanitary products.
Upon realizing the extent to which women are affected by their menses, a man sets out to create a sanitary pad machine and to provide inexpensive sanitary pads to the women of rural India.
The True Story of a Real Super Hero.
Lakshmi (Kumar) is a doting new husband to Gayatri (Apte), as well as a devoted son and brother. He’d do pretty much anything for her comfort and when he learns that the women in his family are expected TO LIVE OUTSIDE FOR FIVE DAYS while they bleed, he’s horrified. He’s even more shocked when he finds Gayatri hand washing a filthy period rag – one, as he so delicately puts it, he wouldn’t clean his bicycle with. So he does the sensible thing and visits the drug store where he’s expected to part with 55 rupees for the privilege of taking home a small pack of pads.
Alas, Gayatri is too ashamed to use the expensive product and begs Lakshmi to return them before her mother-in-law finds out. There is so much shame surrounding menstruation within his family, with the women accepting their miserable lot once a month and Lakshmi just can’t get his head around it. So at the first opportunity he chats to a doctor, who commends him for even noticing the women’s periods. Doc gives him some shocking facts about the illnesses women could pick up from their dirty jam rags – and Lakshmi decides to do something about it.
Gayatri is dubious when her husband presents her with his period pad prototype, one he has cobbled together using cheap materials from around the village, but after some persuasion she gives it a go. Unfortunately it’s a total wash out and the subsequent blood bath in her sari is uh, hard to wash out. Lakshmi had hoped she’d love them so much she’d share them with all the women in their lives but first he must go back to the drawing board.
So begins a series of failed attempts to get them to actually work to the appropriate standard. Lakshmi fails again and again – and more than this, his obsession begins to cause a serious rift between him and his family. His wife is constantly mortified, the neighbours think he’s a perverted madman and everything is slipping away. When he is caught experimenting with animal blood on his latest version of the pad, it is the final straw. Gayatri’s horrible family insists that she leave him and come home.
Years pass and Lakshmi refuses to give up – or to stop challenging the taboo surrounding menstruation. He does some research on better materials and builds four inexpensive (in the grand scheme of things) machines to start making the pads in bulk. A chance meeting with modern babe Pari (Kapoor) leads to him giving her one of the pads when she needs it most. Later they strike up a friendship and she gives him some useful feedback. She also suggests he compete at a big innovation fair in Delhi with his machines. Well of course he wins ‘Life-Changing Innovation of the Year’ and enough money to keep business ticking over.
As his wife prepares to file for divorce, so Lakshmi’s star rises. He hires a group of local women to work in the pad factory and even travels to New York City to speak at the UN. All the while getting closer and closer to the lovely Pari who has been nothing but his head cheerleader the entire time. Without her they never would have been able to sell the produce, given that he’s a dude and only women can talk to women about women’s things. Well duh.
She’s also the one who persuades him to sell his first factory to one of the women and set up a new one in the next town (and on and on). Thus putting him one step closer to his dream of making one million jobs for one million women across the country.
On the cusp of something very real happening between Pari and Lakshmi, he receives a telephone call that changes everything. What’s Pad Man to do?
So I started this movie believing Lakshmi to be the most enlightened and romantic man on the planet. Don’t worry, I am still a fan of all he’s achieved but there’s also a lot of him telling women he knows better and ignoring their obvious distress at talking about it. Sure, ultimately he’s changed the world by never losing sight of his vision, but there are a few moments a little sensitivity wouldn’t of gone amiss.
It’s interesting to compare the modern thinking of Pari and her family versus the small village mentality of Gayatri and hers. None of this is her fault though, internalised shame is a thing and generations of her family have been taught that periods are unholy. How do you argue with that?
I can’t deny this movie didn’t get to me, it was fascinating actually and unlike the last few Bollywood numbers, the two hours+ seemed to pass quickly.
I can’t quite work out Pari’s justification for not going after her man though. She does a little speech in the back of a cab that makes no sense and apparently never sees him again. Lakshmi is a good man whose end goal was always just to make his wife’s life easier so divorce was never really a part of his future.
The story is astonishing and to be honest, it was a joy learning more about this man. I had no idea but shouldn’t have been so surprised that women were/are still treated like actual dogs during their period. Lakshmi calculated that these same ladies spent two months of the year just sitting around doing nothing because of their monthly visitor. That’s a lot of wasted time.