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If product was not sanitary pads, I wouldn't have done this film: R Balki on PadMan

This is the first time the director will be making a film on a non-fictional character.


PadMan, an upcoming Hindi film that focuses on menstruation and women's health, is based on the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham.

Muruganantham is known for finding a way to make cheap, affordable sanitary napkins for women in his village. The film will feature an ensemble of actors like Akshay Kumar, Sonam Kapoor and Radhika Apte.

Director R Balki told IANS that he wouldn't have picked up the story if it wasn't based on sanitary napkins. 

"I would like to always do original stuff. This is the first time I am doing something based on someone else's life. I would never like to base a film on a book. If the product would not have been this -- sanitary pads -- I wouldn't have done this film. I felt there will never be a chance again to do such an interesting subject... I prefer to write original content. Sometimes, fiction is a lot more interesting... you don't know where it goes and you can dream up whatever you want to," said Balki, who shot the film in rustic settings in Indore.

Having said that, Balki believes the core of adapting someone's life story for the screen is about "respecting the life the person has led".

"But it doesn't mean you have to stay faithful to it. You have to fictionalise it sometimes. Like I was speaking to Arunachalam Muruganantham, and he was saying, 'I wish bits and parts of this film were what I lived like'. So, it (the fictional bit) adds to his life... Anything that adds to his life and makes it more interesting, who is going to say no to it? Fundamentally, I feel that, as a filmmaker, you must respect the person and his life," he added.

Of late, the world of Hindi cinema has been bringing some never-spoken-about subjects into the frame, be it open defecation via Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, menstruation via PadMan or erectile dysfunction through Shubh Mangal Saavdhan.

When asked if it become a new formula of sorts to merge social messages with a dose of entertainment in Hindi cinema today, the director said, "I don't know about that, but I was just fascinated by the life of the man on whom the film is based. I also feel sanitary napkins as a subject has not been touched in this country. It's a revolutionary thing, what he did. It must be spoken about... People are so shy about it."

But Balki, who was in the capital for an event by Ficci Ladies Organsiation (FLO), refused to describe PadMan as a "social or message-based" film.

"His (Muruganantham's) life itself is equal to Sholay. It is as entertaining as the biggest masala entertainers... And when you have a life that is so entertaining, why do I need to add entertainment," Balki told IANS.

He stressed that cinema should "never be preachy".

Balki has had a long and fulfilling career in the field of advertising and debuted in Hindi cinema with Cheeni Kum (2007), a film about a romance between a 64-year-old man and a 34-year-old woman. He followed it up with Paa (2009), a heartwarming father-son relationship saga, in which the son suffers progeria.

Thereafter, came Shamitabh (2015) about a hero who is unable to speak, and then he gave the audience Ki & Ka (2016) on gender roles in the society.

What makes PadMan different for Balki is that it is the first time he is making a movie on someone else's life. All his other movies have been fictional.

The film is slated to release next year.