Padman: Akshay Kumar, 'the poster boy of pop patriotism', has chosen an anti-government issue to sell his film
Akshay Kumar is no longer waving the National Flag. Instead, he is waving a sanitary napkin ahead of the release of his next, R Balki's social drama Padman, on 9 February.
It was rather surprising that Kumar chose to push the release of Padman from the eve of Republic Day, going by his recent image of the poster boy of pop patriotism. The son of an army man, Kumar has always maintained that he is a patriot at heart. His recent choice of films, from Raja Krishna Menon's Airlift to Tinu Suresh Desai's Rustom, also speak volumes of his patriotic inclination.
This year was abuzz with debates around his political viewpoint and newfound love for the ruling party. The discourse reached its peak when he won the National Award for the Best Actor for Rustom. While he graciously accepted the honour, the development was subjected to allegations of pandering to the party in power in lieu of an award. Also the fact that there were far better contenders for the award (Aamir Khan in Dangal or Sushant Singh Rajput in MS Dhoni: The Untold Story come easily to mind).
His recent film, Shree Narayan Singh's Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, was panned for being pro-establishment. Though Kumar argued that the film merely disseminates the idea behind the Union Government's flagship campaign, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, it was even alleged that the film was funded by the state.
Moreover, Kumar vocally extended support to the armed forces and even donated lakhs of money to the kin of deceased CRPF jawans. He even came up with an app to facilitate transparent online donations to the family of the armed forces, with the support of Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
However, his next release, Padman, silently defies his alleged pro-Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) streak. In the film, Kumar plays Arunachalam Muruganantham, the man who invented low cost sanitary napkins in India, and has also gone on to say that sanitary pads should be given to women free of cost.
This statement was in response to a journalist's question of whether sanitary pads should be tax-free. Kumar, in a rather surprising retort, opined that sanitary napkins should not only be exempted from cost but given free of cost to women as it is a basic necessity for them.
Kumar's stance delivers a blow to the Central Government which levied a staggering 14 per cent GST in the Annual Budget last year. After countless petitions and nationwide protests, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley changed it to 12 per cent. The 2 per cent leeway did not appease the citizens as they continued their protests. #LahuKaLagaan (tax on blood) trended on Twitter for days but the government refused to take notice.
That is why Kumar lobbying for free sanitary napkins comes as a surprise, especially as it comes from an alleged BJP sympathiser. Contrast his response to that of Kajol who defended the exorbitant GST on sanitary pads under the veil of other basic requirements like 'milk' and 'rice' also falling under the tax bracket. Since she was asked the same at a government event naming her a brand ambassador of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the occasion would have called for the given response.
Since Kumar seemingly enjoys a tremendous political clout, he could have carried forward the pan-Indian conversation in favour of tax-free sanitary napkins through a more confrontational approach. Though his wife and co-producer of Padman, Twinkle Khanna, did meet Union Ministers Smriti Irani and Maneka Gandhi, she claimed it was to make their film tax free.
While the move was commercial in nature, it can indirectly contribute to the escalation of debate. In a situation where the state governments agree to declare the film tax-free, it can add to the already existing pressure on the Central Government to treat menstruation with the sensitivity it calls for.
And so, as of now, the ruling party may be in a fix. Would they declare Padman tax-free in the states where they have a say at the risk of being called hypocritical, especially after ignoring sanitary pads in the Budget session? Or would they put their foot down and conveniently get rid of their mascot?
Unlike Toilet: Ek Prem Katha where Kumar carried on both the patriotic and feminist waves, he has chosen to side with only one in the conflicting case of Padman. While credit should be given where it's due, do expect him to rabble-rouse his way to the release of Reema Kagti's Gold, a sports drama that documents Indian hockey team's victory in the Olympics, when it releases later this year on the Independence Day.
Updated Date: Feb 08, 2018 14:45 PM