You guys did the ‘If your period was a person’ video for Pad Man right? There were 4 videos but that one, I found best. There was a certain whimsy feel to it which I found quite interesting.
Twinkle Khanna greets me with these lines as I enter her office. Tucked in a by-lane of Juhu, Mumbai, her office overlooks the sea and it’s as pretty, spacious and quirky as one would expect from the property of a successful author, columnist and interior designer.
The former actress has now turned producer with Pad Man, starring her husband Akshay Kumar, Sonam Kapoor and Radhika Apte. Based on the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham, the social entrepreneur from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu who is the inventor of a low-cost sanitary pad-making machine, it won’t be an exaggeration to call Pad Man one of the most important films this year. In a nation where even discussing menstruation is a taboo, a superstar wearing and bleeding into a pad can be considered a breakthrough moment in mainstream entertainment.
Trust Twinkle to be the person backing a movie on a topic that is against all norms. In a 15 minute conversation, we discussed her debut, her work, her children, her upcoming ventures and those annoyingly happy girls we always see in sanitary pad commercials.
Excerpts from the interview –
You pushed the release of Pad Man so that Padmaavat gets a solo release – such gestures are usually unheard of in Bollywood. What made you take this decision?
We pushed Pad Man for two weeks for two reasons – one – it was an unprecedented agitation that happened around Padmaavat, it was nothing I’ve seen in my lifetime, this sort of… you know. From the beginning I was cheering for them in terms of them wanting to have the biggest numbers ever (laughs) I didn’t realize it will come with us.
But even then, Mr. Bhansali (Sanjay Leela Bhansali) has worked with Akshay a couple of times and when they spoke, that was probably 90% of the reason why we moved. And the other 10%, I would say was that I felt we had a movie which has a very strong and very important message. In this agitation and all of the horrible burning cars and tyres and pelting school buses and awful stuff, this message would not be heard. It was very important that as many people hear it, so I think those were the two factors that came into play.
Be it your columns, or your tweets, you often use your sense of humour to say the most biting things…
You know you must have realized that on social media, you inadvertently reveal your true self after a while (Laughs) so there’s only that way to communicate, I don’t know any other way. Because for me, more than half of the time I’m actually doing things trying to entertain myself more than anybody else in the universe. If I’m trying to make a point and if I’m not laughing while writing it or at lease giggling while writing it, then I’m bored. So why will I bore other people? My philosophy of communication is centred around that.
Our obsession with star children has reached an alarmingly new level, which is perpetuated by the paparazzi, social media and entertainment websites like ours. Does that change your parenting style in anyway?
Aarav especially is not somebody who enjoys media attention, so if you see most of his pictures you can see he’s putting his head down and trying to run away from somewhere. The other thing I feel is, what scares me is the fact their faces are getting more recognizable, which is why I’ve never really posted their pictures. But now, it seems to be redundant as their faces are plastered everywhere.
Yep, your children have multiple fan-clubs on social media without them having to do anything.
Exactly, I want him (her son Aarav) to lead a normal life, I want him to be able to cycle and go to the market, I want him to take a rickshaw and go for a dentist appointment. But I don’t want them to live surrounded by bodyguards. This sort of invasion of privacy for me is not so much about the press being everywhere, for me this is my fear that they won’t be able to live normal lives because they’re recognized. He can’t today or tomorrow take a train to go anywhere because people will recognize him and that I feel is the biggest drawback. They won’t be able to see the things I could. Despite my background and who I was, we didn’t have this, I was able to do everything. In fact, I think in college I would cycle from Bandra to go to college, we would take trains and go to Fashion Street, that was our lives and it was normal. I don’t think my children can do that because of this paparazzi culture.
Is Akshay Kumar going to enter politics?
(Laughs) I don’t think he’s going to enter politics. The chances of me (entering politics) are higher than him. But I don’t think that’s something you know I should do… (laughs), we’re very happy doing what we’re doing and I feel like we’re contributing in our own way. He, especially, his voice reaches out to more people than mine does. And I think that’s enough.
You will be very entertaining if you enter politics…
I will be thrown out of my party because of some rubbish I’ll say.
You are one of the first few celebrities to embrace feminism. In a certain way, that makes you somewhat of a spokesperson on this matter. Do you think about the impact your words create because of your stature? Many people are still afraid to use the F word, even if it basically means gender equality.
It’s changing (the way people look at feminism), you know. I’m also learning and growing, being a feminist does not mean that I’m a perfect person and if you’re going to judge people on that basis, then there’ll be none. I’m somebody who will look at my mistakes and my errors and valid criticism for that matter. I examine it very carefully because inadvertently it’ll tell me something about myself or the world I’ve been unaware of and that is very important to me. So I don’t think I’m someone who thinks where I’m coming from, or who I am or sometimes about how things may play out when I’m saying or writing something. For example, my column is out, where I’ve been touching upon this agitation in my own sardonic manner. I don’t think I can keep being politically correct, it’s not my nature.
That’s so refreshing you know, but I don’t even blame celebrities for not speaking their minds. Because you will say something and the next thing you know your children are being threatened.
Exactly, my husband also says just be careful because we have kids, I think that was probably his only piece of advice.
Do you think Pad Man will bring about a change in the way the world looks at menstruation?
I think one, this (menstruation) was something that was not even discussed earlier, but today, the country is discussing it, even if it’s just the fact that whether they will watch Pad Man or not. A conversation has begun. We were only apprehensive before the trailer was out because we didn’t know how people would receive it, but once the trailer was out, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. So I think that a conversation has already begun about something which was one of our primary reasons for making this movie.
Two, every couple of days, I’m now reading in the papers, that they’ve installed a sanitary pad wielding machine at railways stations – somebody’s opening it in a theatre, they’re putting it in schools… so we have done our part. You always have to contribute in the manner you’re skilled at, so we’re contributing in that manner where this starts a conversation. Personally I’m going to work a little bit more after the movie with Arunachalam (Muruganantham) on various things. His pads are 90% bio-degradable, I want to see if we can make that a 100%, get his machines into more states, etc. It’s something we need to do in India especially, a lot of women are unaware. Even if they’re using rags (instead of pads, as they do in many rural areas of the country), a simple thing like putting a rag in sunlight (and not hiding it because of the shame that accompanies our bleeding), we can save the lives of so many women.
This is your first production, you must understandably be nervous. What does Akshay bring to the table in this project? Apart from his acting skills, of course.
In this film, I would say a couple of things, one – as an actor of his stature, what he does in this film is, because he is idolised by so many people, once they see him holding a pad in his hand, a lot of taboos get shattered. Two, since this is my first production, he’s got a great head with numbers so whether it is about how many screens we need, what are the projections, how are we going to market the movie, he helps me with all of that. Those are things we collaborate very well on together. Because it’s my first time, I don’t think I have ideas that are… let’s say… the norm. I don’t think I have any ideas that are the “norm” (laughs), so we’ve come out with a collaboration with Tinkle Comics with Supandi and Pad Man. We want to reinforce the fact that you can see this with your kid.
What’s next for you?
I’m halfway through my third book and I should finish that. I have something else coming up in a couple of months because I like doing new things in life. I like taking leaps, sometimes I do trodden over and land brilliantly, or sometimes I land on my ass, but that’s life. And if I have to make a movie, I have to find a compelling story. I think most people look at it like this – ‘I’ve got a production company, I should make a movie’, but I’m like ‘I’ve got a great story and I have to make a movie’, it’s probably the reverse. If I find a compelling story, I will make a movie, if not, I’ll write because that’s my first love anyway.
We then proceeded to play a small round of rapid fire (thanks Karan Johar), where Twinkle reacted to stereotypes and cliches surrounding periods.
Those annoyingly happy girls in sanitary napkin ads
I think they’re performing for a prozac (anti-depressant pills) commercial instead of sanitary napkins.
When you’re angry and a man says ‘calm down, are you like on your period or something?’
It depends, if I’m actually on my period, then I’d stab him with a knife. But if I’m not, then I’ll just take a deep breath and walk away. Sorry to perpetuate stereotypes, sorry.
When your period just comes by surprise
I do what every normal girl does, go somewhere and look for toilet paper!
And finally, what do you have to say about the stereotype of women fainting when they see blood
I think I’d faint if I see what they show in the commercials, that blue liquid. If you ever pull your underwear down and see that blue liquid, I think you should faint because obviously there’s something wrong with you.
Now that’ll be quite the sight won’t it?