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

Release Date: 16 Jun 2017 / Rated: U/A / 01hr 36min

Cinestaan Rating

Shriram Iyengar

Director Abhishek Saxena tries to tell a story, but can't seem to weave an interesting tale around it. 

For a film that is dealing with a sensitive subject and needs to be told, Phullu has been certified 'Adult' by the wise Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). This despite the fact that there are no obscene, violent, or even vulgar words used in the film. All it does is talk about the 'disease' that is menstruation, using the euphemisms that many women are familiar with. This certification is proof of why such films needed to be made. 

However, where Phullu fails is in its inability to weave an interesting, coherent tale to deliver the message. It is sincere, but lacks a composure to allow the tale to progress naturally. 

The film begins with the sight of a funeral held in the village, before abruptly shifting on to the story of Phullu. The joker of the village, Phullu (Sharib Hashmi) is the village handyman. From buying 'samaan' for the women to medicines, and travelling to the city, he does everything for the women of the village, with the one exception of his mother. While his mother complains, whines, and even thrashes him for fooling around, Phullu continues his own innocent way of life. His friendliness with the women is a contrast with his complete ignorance of their struggles, or their feelings. A marriage does not help change him into the responsible adult that his mother hopes him to become. This playful personality is what defines the character.

On one incursion to the city, he learns about the mysterious 'pad' wrapped in a black plastic bag, and sets out to learn more about the 'disease'. From then begins a struggle to help the women in the village, and his village, understand the risks of using cloth during their menstruation, and the necessity of female hygiene. Vilified, beaten up, ignored, he finally takes matters into his own hands and sets out to create his own version of cheap sanitary pads. 

The film carries a very vital message at its heart. The issue of expensive sanitary pads, the ignorance and superstitions that revolve around it are peppered into the story effectively. These messages are delivered quite ably by sincere acting. Hashmi as Phullu is endearing, but the incompleteness of his character arc lets him down.

Jyoti Sethi as Bigni, his wife, looks miscast, but comes into her own as the story progresses. But the scene stealers are Nutan Surya as Phullu's perenially angry mother, and Inaamul Haque as the world wise beggar. Nutan delivers a commendable performance, and is quite enthralling everytime she comes onscreen. Haque makes a cameo for 10 minutes but says everything the movie needed to say. The actor also appears to have walked away with some of the best lines in the film, including the brilliantly secular answer to the question, do all religions treat menstruation as evil? 'Hindu Muslim Sikh Isaai, jaahil saare bhai bhai'. 

While the sincerity onscreen is commendable, the film is riddled with several flaws. Director Abhishek Saxena tries to tell a story, but the thread of his plot unravels after the interval. At one point between his obsession with making the pads himself leads to his separation from Bigni, and the continuity in the plot seems to be lost. He grieves for Bigni before anything happens to her. Several scenes in the film feel like forceful inventions to carry the plot further. The scary creation of the experimental doll is another matter that could have been dealt with a little better. The lack of involvement of any of the women, save Bigni's superficial interest, in the project makes it feel a little unnatural. Despite the superstition, their obstinate refusal to even be curious about it is strange.

There is also no explanation as to the character arc of Phullu. He continues to function as a man consumed by his whims, except that his whims are socially beneficial. The character lacks a wholesomeness that could have added depth and complexity to the story. The end of the film leaves more questions as to how Phullu succeeds in his enterprise. Seeing how he has been vilified by the women, banished by the men, his crying declaration that his experiment 'succeeded' seems a bit too premature. All we can do is assume that he did convince the women in the village to use his 'pads'. 

Director Saxena has opened a new topic for storytellers and filmmakers to explore, despite the prudishness of the CBFC. There is already R Balki's Padman looming on the horizon, with Akshay Kumar starring in it. Even Saxena admitted that there should be more filmmakers choosing this topic. One only hoped that as one of the first ones to make a film on it, he had been a little more careful in his storytelling.