DUBAI: Akshay Kumar has gone through multiple transitions on his climb to becoming one of the top-three grossing stars in Bollywood history. Starting his career as an action star, and then finding even more success with comedy, Kumar now aspires for something greater with his work.
With his recent films “Airlift” (2016) and “Toilet” (2017), Kumar has highlighted social issues and important moments in India’s recent past. While those films found considerable success, his new film “Pad Man” seems poised to surpass them both, tackling the true story of a man who helped bring affordable sanitary pads to women across India.
What caused this change? “Because with power comes great responsibility,” Kumar tells Arab News. “I want to not only entertain people, but I want to help create the change that’s needed in our country. I have a platform, now I want to do good with it.”
Now 50-years-old, Kumar reflects more often on his potential legacy.
“I don’t want to be just another famous actor who died of old age. I want to be someone who made a difference and left a mark in people’s hearts.”
Early in his career, he admits to me, this was not the case.
“If I were to be honest, earlier the greed was for money.”
Since Kumar has made the shift towards trying to effect social change, acting fulfills him in a far different way than it did then.
““In fact, it’s even more than before now. Now that I think I have enough and more, there’s been a shift in greed for doing more fulfilling work — work that will speak for itself, work that will entertain, work that will be etched in people’s memory.”
Who is the ‘Pad Man?’
In 2012, Kumar’s wife Twinkle Khanna wrote a book called “The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad,” which featured a short story based on the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham, who has been called a “superhero” for his role in improving menstrual hygiene across India. Muruganantham, who Kumar says is a wonderful man, “went to the ends of the earth to provide an affordable sanitary pad for his wife to make her life better, more comfortable and disease free, even though the pursuit cost him his marriage.
“I was incredibly intrigued by his story,” Kumar says, “which I think stands as the first reaction for the majority of people who hear about this film — purely because of the strong subject line, the issues and taboos relating to menstrual hygiene and the shocking data I was exposed to which just appalled me. I was so taken in by his story that I was onboard even before the script of Pad Man was written.”
Kumar wanted the film to be as palatable as possible for general audiences, something he credits the creative team for achieving.
“(I didn’t change) much really. The writers and director have done a great job with the script. Our only concern was to ensure and make a film that in no way makes anyone feel gross or uncomfortable. Yes, the subject is considered a taboo, but with all the trailers and songs by the time the audience reaches the theatres, they know what they are coming for.”
Kumar has since developed a personal relationship with Muruganantham, who it has been reported wanted only Kumar for the role.
“Arunachalam Muruganantham has not only got a cracking personality himself, but his story is just so intriguing, you can listen to his thoughts all day, his own one liners are clap-worthy, his opinions and views of seeing things a certain way is so pure and rare. For me he really is a real-life hero,” Kumar says.
With a string of socially-focused films under his belt, Kumar says he is not actively looking for the next.
“I’m not on a cause hunt. It just has so happened that these scripts have come my way and for whatever reasons managed to convince me to be a part of the project. Having said that, if I do get a script which is entertaining, along with highlighting a specific cause, why not.”
In the mean time, Kumar hopes that Pad Man can make a real difference in today’s India.
“If there was one thing that I had the power to change at the snap of my finger, it would definitely be making our country 100 percent sanitary pad wearing country. Hopefully, through this film, and with time, we manage to achieve this feat sooner than later.”