Free Press Journal

R Balki talks about gender equality and how it is actually just a cliché


All humans are equal and there’s no reason to be loud about one specific gender, says acclaimed filmmaker R Balki, whose “Pad Man” — about a man focused on women’s menstrual hygiene — is releasing on Friday. Whether it was “Paa” or “Ki & Ka”, Balki has always projected women characters as exceptionally strong, and without having the tag of a “woman-centric” film.  Asked if that is his way of celebrating feminism and gender equality, Balki says, “I think the term gender equality is a cliche. People are equal. Whether it is rich or poor, black or white, man or woman, and people with different beliefs — we are equal.” Pointing out that a relationship is about the dynamics between two people, Balki says society tends to stereotype the roles.

“We have preconceived notions” about how a man and a woman should behave. I don’t think about making a woman-centric film that way. Women are the progressive thinkers — some of them are outspoken, some are not, but in their heart, they all think progressively. I see no reason to project them as backward in a few films and then as progressive in other films.”

Citing an example, Balki, who turned from a successful ad man to director, says, “The other day, I was reading somewhere that a mother-in-law motivated and encouraged her daughter-in-law to finish higher education and pursue a career. So you see, these people exist. We stereotype a mother-in-law.” Does he make an effort to project the man-woman equation as complementing each other?  “(It is) not exactly a conscious effort, but that is how I think. My films are a reflection of my thoughts. I want to capture things the way they are because that is the beauty of life,” he says. “For instance, in ‘Pad Man’, Radhika (actress Radhika Apte) is playing a conservative housewife. But if you look closer, she is not a backward-thinking woman. She is just living in a society where even though she knows certain things are wrong, she cannot change the world. We tend to show people are fighting to come out of a situation, but no, that is not always true. We don’t have to find one wrong thing in a person, and highlight it. It does not have to be that loud all the time. It is about how we can complement each other to find a way to celebrate life… that’s the beauty.”

The narrative of “Pad Man” is based on the short story titled “The Sanitary Man of Sacred Land”, about the real-life hero Arunachalam Muruganantham, who invented a low-cost sanitary pad-making machine. Asked if he made any changes to the story while adapting it for the big screen, Balki says, “Yes, there are some major changes.

I introduced the character of Sonam (actress Sonam Kapoor) in the film. I added some funny incidents in the story and some other little changes. I took some amount of cinematic liberty. Look, the film is not a documentary. It is a feature film. When I spoke to Muruganantham, I told him that I want to make a film that, after watching, you should feel, ‘I wish I led my life like this.’ So as a director, I kept the core of the story and his personality intact, but made certain changes to make it more interesting to watch as a film.”

This is the first time Balki has worked with Akshay. He calls him an effortless actor. “Akshay is cool. I have so much love and respect for him. He is one of those actors who does not talk about world cinema and intellectualise the process of acting and filmmaking; but when on set, as the camera rolls, he is up with his best game. He is a so sharp and effortless as an actor, I love that about him,” he says.