R Balki: The term gender equality is a cliche

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All humans are equal and there's no reason to be loud about one specific gender, says acclaimed filmmaker R. Balki, whose PAD MAN — about a man focused on women's menstrual hygiene — is releasing on Friday.

Whether it was PAA or KI & KA, Balki has always projected women characters as exceptionally strong, and without having the tag of a woman-centric film.

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Asked if that is his way of celebrating feminism and gender equality, Balki told IANS: "I think the term gender equality is a cliche. People are equal. Whether it is rich or poor, black or white, man or woman, and people with different beliefs — we are equal.

Pointing out that a relationship is about the dynamics between two people, Balki said society tends to stereotype the roles. "We have preconceived notions" about how a man and a woman should behave.

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"I don't think about making a woman-centric film that way. Women are the progressive thinkers — some of them are outspoken, some are not, but in their heart, they all think progressively. I see no reason to project them as backward in a few films and then as progressive in other films."

Citing an example, Balki, who turned from a successful ad man to director, said: "The other day, I was reading somewhere that a mother-in-law motivated and encouraged her daughter-in-law to finish higher education and pursue a career. So you see, these people exist. We stereotype a mother-in-law."

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Does he make an effort to project the man-woman equation as complementing each other?

"(It is) not exactly a conscious effort, but that is how I think. My films are a reflection of my thoughts. I want to capture things the way they are because that is the beauty of life," he said.

"For instance, in PAD MAN, Radhika (actress Radhika Apte) is playing a conservative housewife. But if you look closer, she is not a backward-thinking woman. She is just living in a society where even though she knows certain things are wrong, she cannot change the world.

"We tend to show people are fighting to come out of a situation, but no, that is not always true. We don't have to find one wrong thing in a person, and highlight it. It does not have to be that loud all the time. It is about how we can complement each other to find a way to celebrate life… that's the beauty."

The narrative of PAD MAN is based on the short story titled 'The Sanitary Man of Sacred Land', about the real-life hero Arunachalam Muruganantham, who invented a low-cost sanitary pad-making machine.

Asked if he made any changes to the story while adapting it for the big screen, Balki said: "Yes, there are some major changes. I introduced the character of Sonam (actress Sonam Kapoor) in the film. I added some funny incidents in the story and some other little changes. I took some amount of cinematic liberty.

"Look, the film is not a documentary. It is a feature film. When I spoke to Muruganantham, I told him that I want to make a film that, after watching, you should feel, 'I wish I led my life like this.' So as a director, I kept the core of the story and his personality intact, but made certain changes to make it more interesting to watch as a film."

This is the first time Balki has worked with Akshay. He calls him an effortless actor.

"Akshay is cool. I have so much love and respect for him. He is one of those actors who does not talk about world cinema and intellectualise the process of acting and filmmaking; but when on set, as the camera rolls, he is up with his best game. He is a so sharp and effortless as an actor, I love that about him," Balki signed off.

PAD MAN is releasing on Friday.

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