Stardust (English) - - COVER STORY -

Known for his un­con­ven­tional sto­ry­telling from the likes of CheeniKum to Paa to Shamitabh to KiandKa, film­maker R. BALKI is back with a tale of an un­der­dog who dared to bring about change. R. Balki tells Divya Ramnani about the chal­lenges faced while mak­ing his lat­est film Pad­Man, work­ing with Ak­shay Ku­mar and more… It re­quires a lot of guts to make a film like Pad­Man. Along with spread­ing aware­ness, there is an en­ter­tain­ment fac­tor in it too. As a di­rec­tor, what were the chal­lenges in front of you?

Along with en­ter­tain­ment, spread­ing a mes­sage is equally im­por­tant and I think no­body re­ceives the mes­sage un­less it’s en­ter­tain­ing. So if you don’t en­ter­tain peo­ple, what­ever no­ble things you have to say in a film is a waste of time. My job is to make a movie that is en­ter­tain­ing, emo­tional, en­gag­ing and funny, so it should be in that zone rather than be­ing a preachy one.

Was there any hes­i­ta­tion in mak­ing a film on men­strual hy­giene? What kind of changes do you think this movie will bring?

As film­mak­ers, we are al­ways scared of what peo­ple will say if we make a film like this. But that shouldn’t stop us be­cause we are talk­ing of con­tem­po­rary prob­lems and peo­ple of to­day. We never ask peo­ple what they want to see. For in­stance, if you ask some­one whether they want to see an ad­ver­tise­ment of a san­i­tary nap­kin, they will hes­i­tate. But once you show it to them, they will start talk­ing about it. For ev­ery change to hap­pen, some­one should do it first and once it hap­pens, peo­ple be­come com­fort­able talk­ing about it. And there’s no point in mak­ing some­thing easy. For ex­am­ple, I don’t think any­one has said the word ‘pad’ as many times as they did in the last four-five months. Peo­ple have been talk­ing about Pad­Man where they use the word pad openly. And once you come out of the the­atre af­ter watch­ing the film with your fam­ily, you will see a fa­ther, mother and daugh­ter talk­ing about it. Chances are that the next time the fa­ther learns of the girl go­ing through her men­strual days, he will openly ask her if she needs a pad or he might even buy her one. So far we think that there are only cer­tain things that daugh­ters talk to their fa­thers about and most of the times it is with their mothers, but now fa­thers too can get in­volved. And never say that peo­ple are scared, they aren’t! They just want some­body to ini­ti­ate the talks.

The topic it­self is a so­cial taboo, we don’t talk about it openly so it’s any­way a big chal­lenge to

see a fam­ily watch­ing a movie with an uneasy sub­ject like this to­gether. Do you think it will hap­pen the other way round for Pad­Man? Un­doubt­edly, this is a fam­ily film and for girls to be spe­cific. Some­where, I feel that there are a lot of men who are try­ing to be a lit­tle bet­ter and have started think­ing about things that they never re­ally thought about be­fore. A lot of them are go­ing to be af­fected more by this film than women, be­cause the women while watch­ing Pad­Man will say, ‘See, this is what we go through’. And for that a man has to come along with her and only af­ter watch­ing the film, he will re­alise that she is spe­cial.

Any rea­son be­hind casting Ak­shay Ku­mar? I didn’t think of Ak­shay but since he asked me whether we could do a film on this, I thought about it and said, ‘yes’. My prob­lem was not casting but I was un­cer­tain about do­ing a biopic then. I re­alised that there won’t be many such op­por­tu­ni­ties of do­ing a film on this topic, that is, men­strual hy­giene and Pad­Man is the first film in the world that is go­ing to do some­thing like this on a com­mer­cial level. Ak­shay Ku­mar solves all the prob­lems when it comes to a char­ac­ter. First of all he is a bang on ac­tor and very sim­plis­tic in his think­ing. He is not some­one who will pon­der or strate­gize much. He prefers to come to the point. He has a pure heart. If you see the film, you will re­al­ize that no­body could play this char­ac­ter ex­cept Ak­shay Ku­mar.

Do you think with­out Ak­shay, the reach would have been slightly less? Slightly? Un­doubt­edly, with­out Ak­shay, the reach would be lim­ited. Be­cause I feel when you have a great star, peo­ple will au­to­mat­i­cally watch the film. I feel it is im­por­tant for big stars to do films which are en­ter­tain­ing as well as de­liver a mes­sages, and so brings about a change. I am not say­ing make a bor­ing preachy film which is an art film, No! That is a waste of time, Ak­shay is do­ing a ter­rific job by do­ing these kind of films.

Any thoughts be­hind casting Radhika Apte and Sonam Kapoor?

There’s no thought! Both of them are stu­pen­dous ac­tors. If I could get a role for them, I would cast them any day. Sonam is a damn cool chick, who is do­ing some of the no­blest things with­out show­ing off about it.

Is that the rea­sons you are in­clined to­wards casting big stars be it Amitabh Bachchan, Dhanush or Ak­shay Ku­mar? Is it be­cause you have a story to tell with a so­cial mes­sage? I didn’t think like that, Pad­Man hap­pened be­cause Ak­shay called me. And he was sit­ting right in front of me, and tell me, why shouldn’t I think of him? He was just there right in front

Ak­shay Ku­mar solves all the prob­lems when it comes to a char­ac­ter, First of all he is a bang on ac­tor and very sim­plis­tic in his think­ing.” ...with Ak­shay Ku­mar and Sonam Kapoor

of me and I like Ak­shay, the way he is and on top of that, I was zapped by the fact that he’s an in­cred­i­ble ac­tor. Also, he never talks about act­ing like other peo­ple do apart from that he is very spon­ta­neous more than most peo­ple. As for big stars, Amitabh Bachchan, when I had chance of casting him in Cheeni Kum. ( I can’t call him a big star, su­per­star, mil­len­nium star or some­thing like that) He is Bachchan, he comes in a sep­a­rate cat­e­gory. I wrote both Paa and Shamitabh keep­ing Bachchan in mind. Tabu may not be a star as big as Deepika, but she is an in­cred­i­ble ac­tor and Vidya at that point of time when Paa came, wasn’t as big as Deepika or Priyanka but now she’s a big name. So, I don’t think I have ever needed a star as a heroine or a hero, I like work­ing with peo­ple who I am a fan of.

You have al­ways made films that high­light burn­ing is­sues faced by the peo­ple of our coun­try, any par­tic­u­lar rea­son? My pur­pose was never to do that. Paa was not an is­sue faced by the peo­ple of our coun­try. In fact, Paa was about hu­man is­sues. All hu­man be­ings have emo­tions and if you do a film on hu­man be­ings, it will be about some or the other prob­lems that they might have faced. Cheeni Kum was not about any is­sue, I find love is age­less and that hap­pened to me, but we can­not call it a so­cial is­sue. Talk­ing about Ki and Ka, I never thought of it as a so­cial is­sue, it just said

If you don’t en­ter­tain peo­ple, what­ever no­ble things you have to say in a film is a waste of time.”

Tabu may not be a star as big as Deepika, but she is an in­cred­i­ble ac­tor.”

“I don’t want to work as a man, I want to earn as a woman what is any­body’s prob­lem?”… Pad­Man is a real so­cial is­sue, be­cause Arunan­cha­lam’s life is a so­cial is­sue.

Af­ter the trailer and songs were out, what was the re­ac­tion of peo­ple?

Since no­body has re­ally cursed me, I am sup­pos­ing ev­ery­one has liked it and the mu­sic is good too. I re­cently saw a bunch of se­cu­rity guys watch­ing the trailer on their phones and they were ac­tu­ally dis­cussing about the fact that they saw a packet of pads in their wife’s closet, par woh green tha yaar yeh toh grey hai and other guys ex­plained him that hota hai yaar…meri beti ko bhi hua hai abhi, it’s a fan­tas­tic sight to watch peo­ple dis­cussing about some­thing they would never dis­cuss in their life. Imag­ine the kind of joy you get, for­get what the film is.

When was the first time you got rid of the taboos re­volv­ing men­strual hy­giene?

I never had any taboos re­gard­ing men­stru­a­tion. My mother used to sit out­side be­fore and I didn’t re­ally ask, why. I learnt about the whole thing dur­ing my school days, and when I started my ad­ver­tis­ing ca­reer do­ing cam­paigns on pads. The kind of things what I heard about the taboos were so re­volt­ing that I was shaken. Yes, I have bought a lot of pads for Gauri and when I go to shops to buy pads, peo­ple look strangely at me. That’s when we re­alised

the depth of this prob­lem and why peo­ple don’t talk about it openly. Af­ter we had a meet­ing with Arunacha­lam, we re­al­ized that the only way to bring about change is by mak­ing peo­ple talk about it freely. But yes, all these su­per­sti­tions and re­li­gious acts were a huge ob­sta­cle.

Apart from In­dia, there are many other coun­tries that face sim­i­lar is­sues, will this movie reach out to the peo­ple there?

I’m so happy to share that Pad­Man is the first Hindi film that’s re­leased in Iraq af­ter so many years and also in the Mid­dle-East. Ev­ery coun­try is wel­com­ing this film as they want to show it to ev­ery woman in their coun­try. It’s a pos­i­tive sign by the gov­ern­ments. Gov­ern­ments don’t change un­less they see that peo­ple are ready for these kind of so­cial things and I see that change hap­pen­ing in so­ci­ety. This is­sue is rel­e­vant and ex­ist­ing in so many coun­tries. Sur­pris­ingly, in coun­tries like United King­dom, Africa, Mid­dle-East, Rus­sia, men­strual hy­giene is also a big is­sue and we are liv­ing in a world where peo­ple ca­su­ally ig­nore this prob­lem. It is glob­ally a huge con­cern, be it a third world coun­try or a de­vel­oped one.

What are your thoughts on Arunacha­lam Mu­ru­ganan­tham?

Arunacha­lam is a real trooper. He is a very creative guy and has got a lat­eral take on ev­ery­thing un­der the sun. Mak­ing a film like this is not as risky as com­pared to the life Arunacha­lam Mu­ru­gu­nan­tham has led. If a per­son can live a life like his, it’s not a big deal mak­ing a film on it. His life is ex­tremely en­ter­tain­ing. It’s not preachy or has any mes­sage, he is a thriller by him­self.

What was the in­volve­ment of Twin­kle Khanna in the process?

Twin­kle was in­volved in get­ting Mu­ru­ganan­tham to agree to give the of­fi­cial rights for the film, and he has not given it to any­body else till now. Twin­kle went on to writ­ing a book and we were writ­ing the script. Both of us fin­ished at the same time and we found that there were two dif­fer­ent ver­sions of the same man’s story. And both the book and the film have got noth­ing to do with each other. Twin­kle stud­ied the whole back­ground and pre­sented the film while the hard­core pro­duc­tion was done by Ak­shay and me.

I am not say­ing to make a bor­ing preachy film which is an art film, No! That is a waste of time.”

A still from Cheeni Kum

A still from Shamitabh

A still from Pad­Man

A still from Paa

A still from Ki & Ka

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