Interview Hindi

Abhishek Saxena on Akshay Kumar's Padman v/s Phullu: Other stars should also choose such topics


In an exclusive interview with Cinestaan.com, director Abhishek Saxena spoke about choosing a taboo subject for his upcoming film, Phullu, and how the arrival of Akshay Kumar-starrer Padman is only a good sign. 

Shriram Iyengar

Films pertaining to women are all the rage now. Yet, there are some subjects few filmmakers will touch. Abhishek Saxena's Phullu touches upon one such taboo topic of menstruation. In an exclusive interview with Cinestaan.com, the director sat down to speak about his reasons behind choosing the film, the shocking lack of awareness on the subject, and the looming shadow of Akshay Kumar's Padman. 

Phullu review: A sincere tale and a necessary message doomed by incoherent storytelling

Following are excerpts from the interview: 

You started off with a Punjabi film, while this is a subtle social drama. What led you to this subject?

First off, I think every director dreams of making a feature film. It was the same with me. Eventually, this is where I wanted to be. But, I received the offer to do the Punjabi film first. But that was not my primary concept. 

Phullu is something that I can claim to be my own. It came to me when I was in Mumbai, trying to buy a sanitary pad at a chemist shop. I noticed that they were wrapping it in these black polythene bags, and this is Mumbai. At a time when we are talking about India moving towards being a superpower. This drove me to make a film, feature or documentary, on this subject. 

I went to a couple of producers, but they dropped the subject saying 'We can't make a film on this. It is a taboo subject.' There was a fear about things going wrong. I was lucky that the producer of my Patiala Dreamz, liked the subject. He is a doctor, and had witnessed similar things in his childhood. This is how the journey began. 

You have set the film in a hamlet in Uttar Pradesh. Any particular reason for that setting?

When we started researching the film, we read about Arunachalam Muruganathan (on whom the film Padman, is also being made), and many others like him. There is another simliar story of Rohit, who hails from Mathura, UP. He has been working to provide the cheapest sanitary napkins to women over the last 24 years. Since I knew UP well, and its language, and nature, I thought this is where it should be based. 

The problem of awareness is particularly widespread in the regions on UP and Haryana. 

You mentioned Padman, and it is a risk for a director to see a similar film enter the market at the same time.

Actually, when we started there were no rumours of Padman. I don't think they started the film at the same time. I registered the story in 2015, and the shooting was complete by 16 April (2016). There were no stories back then. 

The subject is still a taboo. Only, people have now started to talk about it with these films ready to release. 

Now, you might ask me what the difference is between Padman and my film? (laughs) Our film is not on one person, but on the complete awareness of the subject. We are not talking about sanitary napkins, but the fact that people are not aware of the existence of these facilities. The village in which we were shooting was 3 kms away from Mathura, which is a major city. And yet, the village does not have any medical store selling sanitary napkins. They don't even know what it is. 

This is the crux of our film. 

Have you tried to explore the reasons as to why menstruation is considered taboo? What makes people avoid a normal physical routine so much?

Yeah, yeah, I have thought and researched about it a lot. The only answer we have is that people are ashamed of it, somehow. There are strange customs for women, like they are not allowed pickles during their periods, or to go to the temple. They are considered impure. 

I am not as great as to question people over why this is so, but the least I could do was to make them aware of the truth. This is why I chose this medium. We might be small, our producers or the film, but we have made a small effort to get the message across to people. 

We are planning to take the film across the country after its release on the 16th. I plan to travel, along with my stars, Sharib Hashmi and the rest of the starcast, to educate people by showing them the film. 

This is such an industry that it allows you to send out important messages under the garb of entertainment. We have seen this before. Films like OMG: Oh My God! (2012) were like that. So, this is another such small attempt. 

Why did you choose Phullu (Sharib Hashmi) as the central protagonist of a film that deals with a subject for women. Was there a specific reason for it?

Yeah, the reason was that women still hesitate to talk about it. So we chose a man. It was also a slightly sarcastic take on the idea of male patriarchy in society. Phullu is the village clown, an uneducated man. When a man like him can realise the struggles of women, and the taboo they have to face, then why not others? 

That's why we chose Phullu to deliver the message. A man who is lazy, incompetent, is always scolded by his mother. But one day, this man takes a decision that proves to be the saviour for all the women in the village. 

Sharib Hashmi is a great choice for the story. He plays the honest character to perfection, he did that in Filmistaan (2013). How did you approach him?

I had met Sharib through one of my friends, and a couple of more times later. I think I never thought about any other actor for the role. Many directors say that, but this is honestly the truth. I had a couple of options, but I always thought Phullu was Sharib Hashmi. 

I actually narrated a one liner to him. We didn't have the ready script then. He agreed immediately. He said, 'I will compromise anything, but I will do this film.' When someone approaches you with so much sincerity and effort, then even we think it is worth it. 

This is a concept that requires some sincere effort to become successful. It is not a commercially viable project. 

You mentioned that producers had warned you against choosing this subject. Now that the film is ready for release, what do you think audiences will take away from it?

Till the trailer had launched, we were very afraid of the reactions. But since then the reactions we have received has surprised us. We have read the comments, and criticism, and it has been very positive. 

Does the prospect of Akshay Kumar-starrer Padman loom as a threat or is that a positive sign of the industry opening up to new subjects?

Oh, it is a very good sign. I don't think we will ever be able to generate the traction that Akshay sir, or R Balki sir will get. But if they are choosing a similar subject, it is a good thing. Despite our efforts, we won't be able to reach the national and international audience the same way they can. 

In fact, other stars should choose such topics as well. I consider myself blessed that Akshay sir chose this concept and is working on a film like this. 

What next after Phullu?

For now, there is only Phullu. After that, I have some plans with Sharib on a film called India Gate.