Need Not Skip This; Period
So yeah, it's that time of the month, when this film on periods, having had to skip its release for another kind of period drama (Padmaavat), finally makes it to theatres. And let this be the last of the puns I'll make on the film's subject. As if attempting a semi-rural setting isn't risky enough, one of the things the thoroughly massy filmmakers might have feared while making this pic, I suspect, are sniggers from a (predominantly) male audience, especially with the lead actor - in separate phases, a macho, mainstream action, comic, romantic star - being perceived as a chump on screen, obsessed with women chumming.
Akshay Kumar plays one Lakshmikant Chauhan, an uneducated, intuitive innovator of sorts (one wished to see more of his 'jugaad' inventions), from Maheshwar - a gorgeous riverside settlement, with the 18th Century Queen Ahilyabai Holkar's minimalist palace overlooking the Narmada, which I think you must visit, if ever around Indore sometime. The location is used well to prettify the frame here, although one hardly gets a sense of its people, and the patois.
The hero in this lot, in fact, invites far worse reactions (banishment, almost), than merely senseless laughs, among characters he's surrounded by. They simply can't get why a man should go around seemingly stalking girls to test/try on his cheap, home-made sanitary pads, or bother himself with menstrual hygiene issues. Even his wife (Radhika Apte) is mortified.
There is much embarrassment attached to discussing matters of female body parts in public, which I guess is natural in a society that puts such premium on a woman's 'sharm', 'haya', 'lajja' (shame) in general, deeming it as her prized ornament. Does the film address this issue head-on? In the same way that Akshay - pretty much back-to-back with Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (on open defecation) - has turned PSAs (Public Service Announcements) into a proper, popular film genre.
Importantly, does it manage to entertain? Absolutely, if you're patient enough through the first half. Foremost, you've got to credit the filmmakers for a pretty fine job with a percussion-heavy background score, dramatising the making of jugaadu sanitary pads, for God's sake! Surely ain't easy.
Also, there's little change a regular bloke - no matter how concerned about an issue - can effect in a village, when the big city remains still the breeding ground for big ideas (let alone big funds). This rural-metropolitan distance, as Sonam Kapoor's urbane character puts it, isn't something 'Digital India' (or other slogans) can bridge as yet.
Lakshmikant soldiers on still. This is an extremely inspiring story. Having learnt about Akshay's method of skimming through a script, where he marks out a few key scenes, while naturally breezing through most of his films - you have to check him out in that bitter-sweet moment where someone finally tries on his character's innovative pad, for the first time, and gives it a thumbs up!
Speaking of unconventional filmmaking methods, ad-man turned Pad Man director R Balki (Cheeni Kum, Shamitabh) has an equally quirky way of working on scripts. Much like an astute advertising mind, he comes up with a half-liner - Abhishek Bachchan playing Amitabh Bachchan's dad (Paa), for instance - and if the idea interests him and something like that hasn't been attempted before, he told me once, he simply goes ahead.
This is, in that sense, a very different kinda Balki movie. Pad Man is based on social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham's life, which has already been made into two feature films that we know of - the unreleased I-Pad, and Phullu (2017) - besides a full-length documentary, Menstrual Man (2013).
Having said that, none of those efforts would have had the legs to travel as wide as this Akshay Kumar entertainer (with a lovely soundtrack), spreading a message that is impossible to ignore in a country where, as the film informs us, only 12 per cent women use sanitary napkins at all. The rest simply can't stay free from likely infections, diseases. So you know where this film is coming from. I'm actually really glad to know where it's going. Period.