Akshay Kumar has become India’s favourite celebrity after making socially relevant films like Toilet Ek Prem Katha and now PadMan. PadMan has been sailing smoothly in cinemas, and critics have been lauding the film too. In this interview with indianexpress.com, Akshay Kumar talks about the film’s success and impact on the society, and how he thinks that movies can create a lot of social change and hence are necessary for a progressive society.
PadMan is doing well in cinemas, but are you happy internally, do you think that the film has done what it was meant to do?
The critics have loved it, everybody has loved it, I see it when I go on the internet. But there are certain people, mostly in places like Bihar, UP, Haryana, who are hesitating to go for it. What I have noticed is, that men are not allowing their wives to watch it and I want to break that, the whole idea behind making the movie was to break the taboo. We wanted women to go with their families to watch the movie, and wanted males, especially them, to go and watch the film with their family. So they know that there is nothing wrong in knowing and talking about periods, and that they can support their wives and help them when it is needed. I am happy that people are liking PadMan, and now the World Bank has taken it upon themselves to show the film in every village in India free of cost. I just want them (people) to come and watch the film.
From what I am hearing, people are feeling ashamed to watch the film because it talks about sanitary pads, and I want them to know that there is nothing unnatural in getting periods. It is a taboo in the US also, in the UK also, it is a taboo in a lot of places, now also. But in India, 82% of the people think it is a taboo, where as there is more awareness in other countries.
With the success of Toilet Ek Prem Katha and now Padman, do you think that Bollywood should make more content driven films?
See awareness can happen, and people are slowly accepting such movies also. Toilet and sanitation awareness was a much easier subject than menstruation and sanitary pads. There are a lot of villages, where people are not allowing their wives, daughters, mothers and sisters to go and watch the film.
People are more interested in films, what people see in films is more impactful, and they can understand that way. They don’t want to watch documentaries or listen to politicians. If actors go and speak to them, they are only interested in seeing the actors, they’ll see them and forget what the speech was about. We tried that with Toilet Ek Prem Katha, the Swatch Bharat Abhiyan, people go to villages, play the movie, people watch it and pick up things from it. Entertainment is the best way to influence people, people pick up a lot from films, and they think by doing what the hero does, they can become heroes too, they can bring down the bad guys.
Pakistan has banned PadMan, is there any other backlash that the film has faced? Does it affect you in any way?
There is no backlash as such, the only thing is that Pakistan has banned the film. But then we do not have any say in that. I can just request them to allow the people there to watch the film because it has a very important message, and we have not shown anything wrong in the film, I can promise that. I am sure that one day the film will be shown in Pakistan.
This is not the end, I haven’t given up on spreading awareness about toilet and female sanitation, and I won’t give up on this either. This is not about movies for me, these are things I feel for. I held a pad for the first time two years ago, and that’s how I thought it was important that people are aware. The fact that women do not have resources enough to buy sanitary products, it is worrisome. Women have to face so much, they are not allowed in temples, and their own kitchen, they are made to sleep in the verandah, this is something we need to get rid of, periods are not taboo. We were working with a guy while shooting, and he ran away when he was asked to hold a pad, saying ‘humare yahaan paap ko haath nahi lagaate!’ (We don’t touch sin). This is the kind of mindset people have, and we have to break it. The movie has been a success knowing that people are going with their families to watch the film. Some of my friends have pledged that they’ll be giving packets of pads along with salary to their house helps.
Have these two films (PadMan and Toilet Ek Prem Katha) impacted you as an actor?
As a human being it has impacted me, I don’t know about the acting part. I do films for the cause of it, not for the acting part of it. However, as an actor I need to do different kinds of films. I don’t want the media to label me or trap me with an image. Earlier I was trapped with the image of an ‘action-hero’, and they wouldn’t accept me differently. I couldn’t even experiment, and I couldn’t change my image. That phase of my career has impacted me deeply, and that is why I constantly change my ways, the kinds of films I do.