Cast: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Apte, Sonam Kapoor
Director: R Balki
Rating: * * ½
R Balki’s attempt to make Coimbatore entrepreneur, Arunachalam Muruganantham’s inspiring real-life story into a typical Bollywood superhero film with ever sincere Akshay Kumar essaying the lead role as a north Indian, Lakshmikant Chouhan from Madhya Pradesh, comes a cropper because there doesn’t seem to be any nuances in the approach to telling this story. The narrative is entirely black and white, where the rural folk are shown as acutely conservative and stigmatised regarding menstrual practices and Lakshmikant’s evangelistic foray into the forbidden area between a women’s legs is seen as a betrayal of their antiquated age-old customs.
Arunachalam’s real life experience was in the south, this fictitious embellishment though, crosses over to the north, where customs, practices and traditions are diverse from that in the south. R Balki, a south Indian, tries to amalgamate south and north practices in his effort to homogenise the setting. But the narrative fails to ring true. The film is set in present day rural India where advertising has reached practically every nook and corner of India- And at a time when sanitary pads are commonplace (though a tad expensive for daily use). So, when Lakshmikant (Akshay Kumar) is trying to persuade his sisters and wife into using his coarse inventions, their negation of it rings untrue. What is the logic in saying that a cotton wadded pad, though coarse, is not protection enough and cannot keep the menstrual blood from seeping into the saree overnight while a soiled piece of cloth can?
Without developing logical reasons for promoting the pad or disallowing it’s use, Balki fails to make a strong point for its eventual incorporation in the rural mainstream. It’s difficult even to suspend your disbelief through the Neanderthal mumbo-jumbo that the film propounds. Arunachalam’s reality was entirely different. So, using a hunky, north Indian male to peddle something that is entirely female, Balki does a disservice to story itself. Compounding that disservice is the attempt to make Lakshmikant’s acute single-mindedness seem almost heroic. Balki’s film, though fashioned as a biopic, doesn’t have the guts to ply the truth like it is.
While following Arunachalam’s success story all the way to the IIT and then the United Nations, Balki wants to make out that his hero is far more venerable than he actually is. Lakshmikant’s half-cocked following of a district doctor’s insinuation that lack of menstrual hygiene is the main cause of infection and death among women, doesn’t quite come up as a serious problem in the film because all the women characters are shown as hearty and hale. And as far as removing stigma is concerned the addition of Pari (Sonam Kapoor) into the invalidated dramatics only takes away the sting.
Pari ends up becoming a romantic interest and even ends up propagating female chauvinism in the process. In fact, ‘Phullu’ where Sharib Hashmi essayed a similar role as Akshay Kumar, had a little more effect in the telling. In Phullu, the protagonist is shown as someone who is not totally altogether. Here Akshay Kumar’s Lakshmikant, aims for sincerity and earnestness but loses out on the reality of his own single-minded pursuit. Frankly, none of the characters ring true here. It’s really a pity that an actress of Radhika Apte’s calibre has been wasted in an inconsequential role. So, don’t expect a revolution from this film, it’s merely a strategically marketed product with economics as its main driving force.