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Stories from South India or East India are now finding favour across the country as Padman and Mary Kom demonstrate, but people who look like us are still not welcome!
Akshay Kumar starrer Padman, due to be released on February 9th is already creating quite a buzz for dealing with the taboo subject of menstruation. Padman is a biopic based on the life and story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, the man who created low-cost sanitary napkins for women.
Though it is a movie about an inspiring man who brings about a massive improvement in women’s health through his innovation and definitely seems a movie worth watching, there are still certain things that might have been done otherwise in the movie.
The film is set in Madhya Pradesh and is based on Twinkle Khanna’s short story, The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad. However, Khanna’s story was inspired by social activist Arunachalam’s life. Arunachalam comes from a hamlet near Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu. Not only the setting but even the main character has been changed into a North Indian in the movie. This brings us to the question, what makes Bollywood so eager to give the North Indian treatment to most of its movies?
One of Akshay’s earlier movies, Airlift too received the same treatment. Though it was based on the life of Sunny Matthews, the Malayali entrepreneur who coordinated the evacuation in Kuwait in 1990, it was once again set in North India and the main character, Akshay Kumar is a Punjabi.
“It may be a business decision to shift the setting to North Indian contexts, but it is also very telling of the mentality of filmmakers at large. You are assuming that the story and characters that you have picked from South won’t be accepted by your audience in North. That, in itself, is a worrying sign for Bollywood,” says Mihir Pandya, film critic and author of Shahar Aur Cinema Via Dilli.
Another example of this misinterpretation was when Priyanka Chopra was asked to play Mary Kom, the legendary Manipuri boxer. In order to create the ‘oriental look’, special effects solutions from Shah Rukh Khan’s visual effects studio, Red Chillies VFX, was employed. And yet, the makers couldn’t choose a North Eastern actress to play the role of Mary Kom? There are many talented actresses from the region like National Award Winner, Geetanjali Thapa, Bala Hijam, Masochon V Zimik (from Chak De India), Karen Shenaz David (a Canadian actress born in Shillong).
Of course, having Chopra in the role was to ensure that more people are lured into the theatres due to her star appeal thereby leading to the film’s success. But what does success mean here? Catering to the cultural mindset of the majority to generate more money and maybe an award or two? And can it only be ensured by star power?
These actors are playing the role of personalities whose physical attributes, cultural backgrounds, or identities are extremely disparate from their own. And yet, Bollywood couldn’t look past this North Indian mindset to represent the rest of India beyond a certain level.
When a person like Mary Kom won in the Olympics or someone like Arunachalam Muruganantham brings about a social revolution, the entire country was proud of them. But people who actually look like them or come from their states are not good enough to play them onscreen? Just think about the irony and biased mindset that Bollywood is pandering to, through these movies.