In an exclusive interview with indianexpress.com, PadMan actor Radhika Apte talks about Akshay Kumar being an apt choice for playing the character of a Pad Man, her first thoughts about the film and what changes does she and the makers of the social drama aim to bring in the society with the film.
Radhika Apte is one Bollywood actor who believes in portraying real characters over larger-than-life characters. She has won hearts of critics and viewers alike with her unconventional roles like that of a village girl Lajjo in Parched, a girl affected by Agoraphobia in Phobia, fiery village woman Faguniya in Manjhi The Mountain Man and titular role of Ahalya in Sujoy Ghosh Bengali short film Ahalya. From doing theatre, art films, short films to working in regional cinema, the actor has barely left any territory unexplored. And now with her upcoming Bollywood release, PadMan, we will see her creating the character of a naive and innocent village girl Gayatri on the silver screen.
Radhika plays the role of Akshay Kumar’s wife in R Balki directorial. The film bankrolled by Twinkle Khanna promotes menstrual hygiene and has actor Radhika Apte playing the role of a village girl who struggles during menstruation but doesn’t approve of her husband gifting her sanitary pads or him trying to revolutionise the thinking of people who consider menstruation a taboo.
Ask her what changes does she and the makers of this social drama aim to bring in the society and she says, “There are three things for which we made this film. First, it is an incredibly inspiring story that needs to be told. Second, if we can make people talk about periods, that would make a lot of difference and third, it’s high time that people understand that menstrual hygiene is of utmost importance. Bacteria thrive on period blood and if you do not use a clean material you can get different kinds of infections and it is extremely dangerous for health.”
PadMan is based on the life of social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham who invented a low-cost sanitary pad manufacturing machine. Arunachalam tried to break the taboo around menstruation in a conservative society and managed to convince the women of his village to use sanitary pads instead of cloth rags or leaves. Talking about this much prevalent taboo in the society, Radhika said, “The menstruation taboo is ancient and there are so many theories about it. For some, it is fear of blood and for some period blood is toxic. If you read the theories about menstruation you might even laugh.”
But the 32-year-old actor refuses to accept it is women who are responsible for menstruation being a taboo. “Men don’t talk about things. Women do not talk about things. It is what goes into society. It’s not only about women or men, it’s about how we have been living in the society. Men and women are sometimes equally responsible for this. Daughters are told about periods by their mothers. But that’s because a father is very uncomfortable talking about it. Why don’t fathers talk about it? Why can’t he say that ‘you will get your periods’ or why can’t both, mother and father talk about it together?” opined Radhika.
Talking about her first thoughts about PadMan, Radhika said, “It was a very inspiring story that I didn’t know. Secondly, I thought it was a great way of presenting an important subject in front of the people because people will be entertained, they will relate to it and we will still see an awareness spread so I was very happy that I was on board for the film.”
PadMan has Akshay Kumar playing a social crusader yet again. His last big screen outing Toilet Ek Prem Katha also had him sending out a social message on the importance of toilets in every household. So is it important to have a superstar like Akshay to attract more people to watch a film which promotes an important social issue? “It depends on your approach. For the approach R.Balki has taken, I think you need somebody big to reach to the masses because if you take a handful of people who will go watch some niche cinema, they probably don’t see menstruation as a taboo anyway or they are already aware of menstrual hygiene. We are talking about a majority of people in the country who won’t go to watch something extremely niche. So for that, we need something that will reach to every person. You need somebody who has a connect with the audience and I think Akshay is the best person as he is not just popular but he has the ability and passion about the subject he is spreading awareness about. The innocence of his character in the film will probably make viewers connect with him instantly,” believes Radhika.
Lastly, Radhika who was among the first few actors who experimented with various platforms and formats of cinema talked about the boom of web series and short films. She said, “Today, you cannot do without your phone or laptop. When you go home, you want to watch something which is easily available and we have good content available so easily now. It is a shift toward the digital medium. While you are travelling in a bus or a car or you are waiting for someone and want to watch something short, it’s great.”
Adding more to it, she says, “I hope it doesn’t affect the business of feature films. Short films and web series have generated a lot of employment. More people are getting to work so I think both can co-exist.”