There’s a relief and excitement when journalists gather to interview Akshay Kumar. After all, unlike other Bollywood superstars, he doesn’t take hours to reach the venue – he’s dot on time. And he gives some very interesting replies. When we met him for Pad Man, he seemed quite charged up for the film and its subject. The actor spoke in detail about the film, the changes he’d like to bring in society and a lot more. Excerpts:
You are doing a film that talks about sanitary pads and your daughter Nitara too would be entering puberty after a few years…
Yes and it’s unbelievable that this question has been asked to me. Down South, people celebrate when a girl hits puberty. The girl is even showered with gifts. The girl thinks that something good has happened to her. But up North, we tend to consider these things taboo. The girl feels as if something is wrong with her and that’s where things go downhill. I have said this in Pad Man – the women should be strengthened if you want the country to be strong. There’s no point in buying F-16s and other defence items when the womb itself is not strong.
And such talks are the need the hour too…
Not just hour, it is the need of every moment and every country. I have been asked to comment on the GST being levied on sanitary pads. My point is forget levying any kind of tax, sanitary pads should be given free of cost! There are so many countries which do that. Wars are not going to take place, but yet we buy or manufacture arms. If you cut just 1-2% of the cost from the defence budget and use it to make sanitary pads, it will be more than enough for the 50 crore women in India. Toh bomb kam kharid lo yaar!
How much change do you think a film like Pad Man can bring?
If I tell you my experience, then when I did Toilet – Ek Prem Katha, it was a dangerous zone. But it made people realize why it’s important to have a toilet for the womenfolk. As for Pad Man, the fact that men on social media are discussing about sanitary pads is the biggest victory! I don’t care how much money the film will make at the box office. My victory lies in the fact that the film has ignited a discussion. When I started working on Toilet – Ek Prem Katha, 62% of people then were defecating openly. The number has now come down to 33%. I am not saying my film is chiefly responsible but somewhere it has played an important role. Today, 82% of women are not using sanitary pads. If in a few months, even if the number is reduced to say 78%, even that would be a big achievement.
Do you feel Pad Man should get tax free status? Are you having any discussion with the various state governments?
No I haven’t. I have made the film I don’t really think of these things.
The opening lines of Pad Man’s song ‘Hu Ba Hu’ are inspired from the quote said by Arunachalam Muruganantham, on whom the film is inspired from. Even the dialogues in the film are from his real speeches. So did you personally go through his speeches while prepping for the character?
No. I haven’t written the film. It was the writer-director, R Balki, who did all the research. I just met him to understand him and I loved talking to him. I also love the fact that he is an innovator. A sanitary pad machine usually costs crores of rupees. But he made it in just Rs. 60,000! He did this just for his wife as he couldn’t see her suffering. 82% of women in our country use dirty cloth, soil and even ashes during their periods. Can you imagine? The foreigners, when they find this out, they laugh at us. They wonder how women manage and survive without even knowing what a sanitary pad is, forget using it.
Not just that, Arunachalam saw his wife shedding tears while chopping onions. So he took a toy of a monkey that plays drum. He removed the drum and kept the onion, replaced his hands with knives and installed a motor below. And that toy started cutting onions on its own! So if we start using our common sense, even we can become Arunachalam!
How did you make Aarav understand about periods? Did he know that Pad Man is based on such a subject?
His mother (Twinkle Khanna) has informed him about everything! These things aren’t taboo in my house at all.
When did you first learn about periods?
I don’t remember but it was around when I was 19 or 20. And trust me, even I didn’t know in detail about periods and menstruation and I learned about it only 1 ½ years ago. As a child, I never saw a sanitary pad. My elders never told me, ‘Jaao beta, ek sanitary pad leke aao.’ That’s why I want the whole family should go and watch Pad Man. Everyone from your parents to children should see the film. This shouldn’t be a taboo anymore. Few days ago, I met a female friend and she said while whispering that she saw the trailer of Pad Man. I was shocked. Why whisper?!
Are you happy the unconventional films like Toilet – Ek Prem Katha, Airlift, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan are getting now?
Yes. People want the change to happen. If we don’t tackle unconventional and taboo topics, we wouldn’t be far from doomsday.
You recently came out with an ad about the dangerous of nicotine. How the idea did come about?
Yeah it was an idea by me and R Balki. We have emphasized in the ad that a cigarette costs around Rs. 10 but a pad is even cheaper. In theatres, they show those anti-smoking ads and it used to make me scorn. We realized that many used to step out of the theatre when that ad was played and they used to smoke at that time (laughs)! So we thought why not make such an ad? I’ll be happy if they play that before a film.
There is a debate going on whether women employees in offices should be given holidays when they are having periods. What is your view?
I think that is something that should be left upto the women. Because it differs from person to person – some women bleed profusely while some are able to take it. But the women shouldn’t be lying about it to take an off, that’s it.
How has Twinkle Khanna been as a producer?
She has fared very well. She has a great sense on what kind of film she should make. Pad Man is her idea too after all.
What was your greatest fear while shooting Pad Man?
I was scared when I saw the pink panty that I was supposed to wear along with the pad. But the fear lasted for only 30 seconds. That’s it.
Last year, a similar film on menstruation called Phullu had released. It was a very small film and it didn’t do well at the box office. Do you think that to make a film that can bring a change in society, you need a bigger star and a production house?
I don’t think so. You just have to make a good film and that’s it. Are you trying to say that only big budget films work? Isn’t it a fact that smaller films often work big time at the box office? Isn’t it a fact that biggies flop miserably too? And anyways, my film isn’t big either. Pad Man is made in just Rs. 21 crore. I made Toilet – Ek Prem Katha in Rs. 22 crores. There was no need for me to spend a bomb on a film based in a village. I couldn’t have based a film like Toilet – Ek Prem Katha in Singapore!
Do you feel the age group that you are in currently is the right time to give back to the society with films like Pad Man, Toilet – Ek Prem Katha?
I wanted to give back to the society long back. But I didn’t have the money to do it! But now I have the money and so I can produce my own films!
In Pad Man, your character is ridiculed for his activities and was made to feel like an outcast. Do you recall a phrase in your career when the bigwigs made you feel that you are a misfit in the industry?
Yes, it has happened but don’t ask me who did it! If I, after 3-4 flops am doing a two-hero film with an actor whose recent films have been huge hits, then I would get a single room while the other hero will get to stay in a suite. And mind you, both of us have equal role in that film! The other hero is given a car to commute while I am told to come in the bus, believe it or not! But then I was perhaps getting what I deserved. When again my films started working, I was also given a suite. In flights, I would be upgraded from business class to first class. When my track record became exceptional, at times I have travelled by a private jet as well!
At a function organized at your school five years ago, you were a chief guest and you told the female students not to abandon their dreams. Now that you have come up with Pad Man, what message would you like to give women?
I’d rather tell the men who come up with these false notions that menstruating women can’t enter kitchen, can’t cook, can’t touch pickle, etc. I believe some even prohibit women from washing their hair in the first two days.