Flimsy feminism. Period.
By Priyanka Sutaria
The promotions for the film had scores of celebs taking up leading man Akshay Kumar’s ‘Pad Man Challenge’, holding up a pad on social media and saying it was nothing to be ashamed about since it was normal. So far, so-so. That we think holding up a pad on social media is worthy of being deemed a ‘challenge’ is problematic enough to begin with, but that was just the beginning.
The film offered up a whole other set of problems. For starters, This movie is about only about Lakshmikant, and by extension, Kumar’s brand of nationalism-driven films.
There seems to be a strange Gandhi-esque shade to Kumar’s character; celibate by choice (having left wife and village for a “greater good”). All the dialogue builds the character of Lakshmikant—intelligent, skilled, generous, crazy, driven, victorious—and the few words about menstrual stigma are wrapped up in a brief five-line speech which emerges from the vacuum that is Akshay Kumar’s performative feminism, a shorter special appearance than even Amitabh Bachchan’s three minute cameo.
You’d think a movie whose entire marketing vehicle has been the collective uterus of Indian women would be a positive step for menstruation awareness. Umm, not so much. If there were no women in the movie and menstruation existed as a platonic form simply manifesting itself in depthless female characters, it would make no difference to the plot whatsoever.
The menstruating women in the movie only talk about Kumar's character. Thus the movie succeeds in divorcing menstruation from those who experience it in order to lionise a man who spends his time taking entrepreneurial advice about a menstrual product enterprise from a grease mechanic, and a thoroughly pointless Sonam Kapoor.
Kapoor is literally there to be a plot device who perpetuates negative notions of womanhood and is present simply to be (metaphorically) written off when the virtuous Lakshmikant returns to his wife. A love triangle for those who come to theatres leaving their brains behind.
Pad Man cannot pretend to create any kind of awareness. It lacks necessary nuance which comes from lived experience. A photo of him waving an ABVP flag while promoting the movie in DU, and an ignorant attempt at a social justice-themed poem are further proof of his blind approach to this issue.
So thank you for sticking up a stray pad for us, Akshay Kumar—really, thanks for giving this discourse the celebrity photo-op that grabs eyeballs. Now, it’s time to go beyond and actually consider the cost of having a period; the cultural and social norms that deem a natural biological process shameful; the gender violence and inequality that informs this entire discourse. And that is about much more than Bollywood holding up a pad as a ‘challenge’.
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