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If films are entertaining, the impact of an issue is much larger - Akshay Kumar | Interview

From bringing us the story of India's first gold medal win at the Olympics to turning antagonist in a sci-fi film; there is no stopping Akshay Kumar! The actor has an interesting line up of films in 2018, and it all kickstarts with a heartwarming story that touches upon a topic that is often considered a taboo in several countries (including India, of course) - menstruation. The effervescent Kumar will be seen stepping into the shoes of Padma Shri Arnunachalam Muruganantham - the social entrepreneur from Coimbatore who is credited to generating mechanisms for creating awareness around menstrual hygiene - in the much awaited film Padman, which is all set to release tomorrow. 

Kumar has been actively involved in social causes and philanthropic activities. Be it collecting funds for Bharat ke Veer or creating awareness around the use of toilets; the actor has rightly stood up for important causes and made good use of social media to voice his opinion. No wonder, his current campaign for Padman has been generating maximum buzz across all social media platforms, with friends from the industry, fans and the audience posing with a pad to lend their support to menstrual hygiene and ditching the taboo. In between a long day of promotions for his upcoming film, we caught up with Akshay Kumar. In a candid conversation, the actor discussed his journey so far, reinventing himself with every film, ideas to promote menstrual hygiene among women in rural areas and lots more. Excerpts from our rendezvous with the one and only 'Khiladi': 



What was it about the script of Padman, which deals with the topic of Menstruation, that interested you the most?
I didn't know much about menstruation when I was growing up. My mother or sister never discussed it in front of me. I was 15 when I came to know about it. I had seen a sanitary pad, but never touched it, until the last one and a half year. I realised the depth of menstrual hygiene in our country only two years ago, when my wife explained the seriousness of this issue. Almost 82% women don't know how to maintain hygiene during their monthly cycle. They use mud, ash and leaves to stop the bleeding. They are excluded from many things in day to day life . They cannot enter kitchen or the temple.  They are not allowed to touch anything and are asked to sit in a separate corner. In the South, they literally celebrate when a girl attains her puberty. She is given a lot of gifts  which gives her the confidence that life is beautiful. Otherwise they will be ashamed of it. However, I feel the best thing about this is that men are talking about pads now.  That was when I realised that we have to make a movie on this topic. We met Arunachal Muruganathan. I came to know how much he cared for his wife and he invented a  machine by investing Rs.60,000 to make sanitary napkins.

How much change do you think will a film like Padman bring about globally, especially in the menstrual hygiene and care space?
Even Hollywood has not made a film on this topic. They made movies on condoms and sperms. It's like a global taboo subject. Many women them end up suffering from cervical cancer. Everything is so hush hush in our society. It's high time we speak about this openly. A day will come when daughters will ask their father to buy them a sanitary pad while returning home. This is a natural process which helps a woman give birth to a child.  When I made Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, it brought about a change.  It gave reasons to people as to why they should build a toilet for their mother or wives. Now, I did Padman and men are discussing about it on social platform. That itself is a victory for me. I don't care whether the film does well or not, what business it does.  What matters is the fact that men are slowly and steadily opening up to discuss this topic now.


A day will come when daughters will ask their father to buy them a sanitary pad while returning home. This is a natural process which helps a woman give birth to a child

Any particular incident during the shoot that you can recall and share with our readers? 
I was shooting with local actors. For two days, they shot with me very nicely and then there was a scene where they were asked to hold a sanitary pad in their hand. They didn't say anything and ran away from there. When we called for them, they said they will not hold a sanitary pad in their hands as it is a grave sin.

Do you feel that the government should abolish GST rates on sanitary napkins?
Sanitary pads are an important necessity in every country.  In the future, I want it to be distributed free of cost. More and more women should be able to afford a pad. Today, close to 90% women are not able to afford it. We have to cater to them. Something like this will just be 2% of the defence budget. I never thought about tax free, because it should certainly be GST free.

Do you think films like these, especially the ones that deal with social causes, have the power to create a lasting impact on the audience?
A film does create an impact! I was always aware about this, but I didn't have enough money to make  such films. So, when I had the money, I started making films. If it is supported by the government, it can create more impact. Just like Toilet... did.  I hope they understand this film and take it forward. This is the need of our times. I have been meeting and talking to women in order to understand this issue. The biggest problem is when they are menstruating, they are surrounded by so much taboo and often don't maintain hygiene. The boys, mostly in rural areas, tease girls girls that they are on a 'five day test match', when they see their stained skirts.


In the future, I want sanitary pads to be distributed free of cost. More and more women should be able to afford a pad. Today, close to 90% women are not able to afford it

Any other issues you want to explore and tackle in your future films? 
I am doing Housefull 4 next. I want to do different kinds of movie.  I am not here to do only issue based films. I want to entertain people. I like to present such issues through entertainment. If the films are entertaining, the impact of an issue is much larger. For e.g: Toilet Ek Prem Katha helped create a lot of change in some rural areas.  The government has done a lot for creating awareness around the use of toilets. Open Defecation was close to 66% before we made the film. Now, it is somewhere close to 33%. I get these stories when I meet different people. Like, I had been to Pune recently for Padman promotions. I met an interesting man and really liked his story.  Someday, I will call him and make it into a film. Recently, someone asked me to do something on the dowry system of our country. These days instead of showing documentaries, they are showing my movies.  These are issue based films, but done in a commercial space. I am not here to make a documentary film. I am making a film with song, dance, romance and fights.

Have you heard how much impact Padman has created now?
I recently came to know that NDSC is planning to install sanitary pad machine in all schools. Hopefully, all the women in our country will have pads and use them in the future. The Government will have to spend Rs 400 on every woman, and their problems will be solved. Changes will happen and this film is about a great future. Today, approximately 10-20% women can afford a sanitary napkin. In the future, rest of them should have it too. Also, invest in a machine where they can destroy it. Now, I am planning to have a menstrual kit for women at shootings. We always have a first aid kit at shoots. But, where's the menstrual kit? Where can she get medicines and sanitary pads in emergencies?

Do you think being a superstar creates more impact on such issues?
It does have an impact, but you have to do it seriously. I am playing a villain in my next film - 2.0 (Robot), but that does not mean that you have to turn negative in real life (laughs).

This is perhaps the first time a major Bollywood superstar is playing an antagonist in a film down South.
It is a pleasure being beaten up by Rajnikant (smiles). People have asked me, why I am playing a villain in Robot 2.0? My simple response is - why shouldn't I? Such a big franchise and working with Rajni Sir is a big achievement.


We always have a first aid kit at shoots. But, where's the menstrual kit? Where can she get medicines and sanitary pads in emergencies?

Do you think hard work and the right choice of scripts helped you in sustaining so long in this otherwise extremely competitive industry?
I had to reinvent myself every time. During the 90's, I did a lot of action. Film makers did not give me any other roles. Whenever an action film would come up, they would say give it give to him.  I used to loathe myself for doing the same kind of roles. I started feeling that I was not capable of doing anything more than action. At that time, I did a film called Hera Pheri. I played a comic character and I didn't have a heroine opposite me in the film. From that day, I started testing my ground. Priyadarshan was kind enough to give me that role. I started experimenting and taking up different roles, which meant even doing a negative character like the one in Ajnabee. Later, I  also did romantic roles in films like Dhadkan, Ek Rishta among others. It was way back then that I did a film with social subject  in a movie titled Khatta Meetha, which was based on corruption in the road construction industry. Back then, that film didn't do well, but if I release it now, I am sure people would love it.  There is a lot of corruption going on within the road construction space. The other day, I was travelling in my car and sitting in the back seat. A cop stopped us and told my driver to show our papers. He wanted to know if we had paid road tax. I poked my head and told the police man, "Show me where the road is?" He started laughing. Our roads are so bad!

While most actors prefer creating a rapport with the same film makers, you have always been open to working with new directors.
I enjoy doing films with new directors. I have worked with 22 new directors and close to 17  debutant heroines. I like to mould and merge myself with the film maker's vision, just like water. Whenever I listen to their narration, I see the greed in them to tell their story through the film.  They are all  charged. That is what I love about them (new directors). And, that is what an actor looks for. He wants creativity. My success ratio with new directors has been much better than any other film makers.

You have been known for your discipline on both the professional and personal front. When or how did you develop it?
My dad was in the Army. He was a wrestler, and later worked for the UNICEF. Hence, I have always been disciplined as a kid.  He never stopped me from doing anything. I got so much freedom that I didn't feel like doing anything. When I was 18, he told me to smoke and drink at home, so that he can take care of me. It's like in school, when you are asked not to bunk, you feel you should try it and you enjoy bunking school. But, somehow you don't enjoy bunking college, because no one is bothered. So, I never got the habit. Today, you cannot force the kids of this generation to do anything. You have to explain everything nicely. Smoking and drinking is bad, but if you must, do it at home.


During the 90's, I did a lot of action. Film makers did not give me any other roles. Whenever an action film would come up, they would say give it give to him.  I used to loathe myself for doing the same kind of roles

Will there ever be a biopic on Rajesh Khanna, or would you want to like to see a biopic based on your life in the future?
The family does not want a biopic. Their father is a father and they don't want to make a film on him.  As far as a biopic on my life is concerned, I am not interested in making such a film. 

You have completed 27 years in the industry, done more than 100+ films and received a  National Award recently. How do you look back at your journey? 
My journey is such that anybody would want to be in my shoes. I have been a lucky man. I have seen a lot of ups and downs, but it has been a lovely and enjoyable journey. I have no regrets. I am enjoying every bit now and earlier also. It has been fantastic.

Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
How will I know what I will be doing after ten years? (smiles) Well, I am running now, but the day I slow down, I will take a back seat.

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Priya Adivarekar

Priya Adivarekar - Founder and Creative Director at Diary of a Dancebee. She is also a renowned Voice Actress and award winning artiste, with serious passion for dance. When not working round the clock, she can be seen reading, enjoying a movie-binge or listening to music.
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