From “Baawra Mann Dekhne Chala Ek Sapna” of Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi to “Yeh Fitoor” of 2015 release Fitoor, we are sure one of your favourite tracks has been penned down by two-time National Award winner Swanand Kirkire. Now, Swanand has co-written Akshay Kumar’s upcoming film PadMan. This is his third project with R Balki, the first two being Paa and Shamitabh. In an exclusive conversation with indianexpress.com, Swanand opens up about how PadMan fell into his lap, his experience of working with Akshay and how this film brings menstrual hygiene on a commercial platform for the first time in Indian film history.
On being asked about his equation with R Balki, the “Behti Hawa Sa Tha Woh” lyricist quipped, “I have worked with R Balki before on various films. I really respect him as a filmmaker. I have known this man’s (Arunachalam Muruganantham) story. This is a real story. I am not just onboard as a screenwriter but also have co-written the film. I love working with him. He is a great guy. He is open to ideas. He is a fast decision maker. I am working with him since Paa. I wrote songs for Paa and Shamitabh. This time I am sharing the writing credit.”
The original story is based in a village of Tamil Nadu but the film is based in a North Indian city. “We have taken creative liberty and fictionalised it a bit in order to give it a mass appeal. Balki sir told me that he wants to make this film with Akshay Kumar to make it reach to a larger audience. When a person like him takes up a film like this, everything changes. The magnitude of the reach changes. That is why even the place has been changed. But the story remains the same. Balki wanted to shoot the film in Ujjain near Indore. Both of us went to Ujjain to see the location and we did not really like it. I remembered another place Maheshwar. When we went there, we immediately liked it,” he said.
As a writer, Swanand said the story itself motivated him to be onboard, “The story is very inspiring about a man who invented the machine that produces low-cost sanitary pads, that too in a man’s world. It is interesting.” In an interview, Balki had said that the script was being written when Twinkle Khanna, the producer of the film, was writing the story for her book The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad. Talking about the same, Swanand informed, “It did start from there but a version of his story is in Twinkle’s book, a version is being portrayed in the film and another version is his life itself. The concept is of Twinkle’s definitely.”
Initially, R Balki had said that he was not sure about making a biopic but Swanand says films like PadMan pushes and convinces you to make a film. He said, “It is an incredible story. When you will see the film, you will realise. Sometimes you know, you decide you don’t want to do a biopic. I am not very comfortable with biopics but then that one story comes across and you feel like making a film on it.”
PadMan is an extension to the kind of socially driven films Akshay has been doing lately. But Swanand believes it would be wrong to call this phase where such films are being taken up by stars, a trend. “It is not a trend. If a man like Akshay Kumar is ready to do a film like that, everybody would like to make a film on it. For years, people have been wanting to do these kinds of films but they do not get a star support. A man wearing a sanitary pad is a great story itself, if this happened in West, it would have happened many years back,” Swanand said.
He continued to speak how without a star’s support films like PadMan can become just an art house movie, “In India, it is a great sign that a commercial actor like Akshay Kumar is willing to support such a story and film. So, there is no trend. It is a very Bollywoodish way to put this up because who in Bollywood has ever thought of making a film on menstruation or sanitary pad? If there is no Akshay Kumar, Aamir Khan or any other A-lister supporting the film, the magnitude of the film becomes smaller and it eventually becomes an art house film. Now, the whole discussion of women hygiene has come on a commercial platform. The film will travel even to a village. I really think such projects should be supported by big stars.”
The writer does not believe that this is Akshay’s strategy as an actor. He praised the actor, “He is fantastic (as Arunachalam Muruganantham). You must watch yourself. It is one of his great performances.” He continued, “It is a strange world. When stars do not take up such topics, the public says he is playing safe and when they take up such strong subjects, they call it a strategy. Come on! Give it a break. He is making films which are relevant and important. What is strategic about it? I would say it is the riskiest film he is doing. People who want to see Akshay fighting and dancing, would see him in a different avatar. It is a bigger risk for him than anyone else.”
In R Balki’s other films – Paa and Shamitabh – Swanand also lend his contribution as a lyricist but this time he took a back seat. In fact, he says he had taken a break from writing lyrics, “I consciously did not write lyrics for PadMan. It happened in the middle of something I was doing. I was shooting for a film Chumbak. So, I had to go for the shoot. I thought if you write the story and you write the song, the newness doesn’t come. So, we thought Kausar (Munir) should write the song. But now when I listen to the album, I think to myself, I should have written at least one song (he chuckles).”
However, his plan to take a break did not really come true as he has some interesting projects in the pipeline. “I am writing for two films. One of which is for Pradeep Sarkar’s film with Kajol called Eela, produced by Ajay Devgn. The other being Haathi by Eros International,” revealed Swanand.
Later, he added that since he has got onboard as a screenwriter for a film, he even plans to become a filmmaker too, “There’s a plan to do that. This year that should kick-off. That is one thing, I had to do.”
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In fact, in a Marathi project called Chumbak, Swanand Kirkire is onboard as an actor too. “I enjoy every role but acting I guess is more fun. I am not deliberately working towards being an actor. If something comes across, I take it up. I am doing a Marathi film Chumbak in which I play the lead,” said Swanand.