Akshay Kumar aka Bollywood’s very own Khiladi, is switching up the game from action-packed romances and meaningless comedies, to films based on patriotism and social change. After 2017 saw the immense success of “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha,” a film about public defecation and the high need for indoor bathrooms in rural India, Kumar is set to start off 2018 with another socially relevant film, “Padman.” Based on his wife, Twinkle Khanna’s book, “The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad,” this unique story shows us that superheroes don’t always wear capes.

Khanna’s book and the film are loosely based on the life of Arunachalam Muruganatham, a Tamil Nadu based social activist who revolutionized menstrual hygiene in India by creating low-cost sanitary napkins available to Indian women in rural regions. The biographical comedy also stars Sonam Kapoor and Radhika Apte.

“Padman” is geared to be the biggest film of 2018 and a powerful one with its positive message. Menstruation and pads are something the media and Indian society have a hard time talking about let along understanding. “Padman” stands to challenge the archaic beliefs surrounding menstruation and strip away the notion that even talking about periods is taboo and uncouth.

Kumar’s film shows how hard it is for Lakshmi to even give his sisters some pads. It’s shameful and terrifying to even have the concept of menstruation mentioned by a male. The concept of “Padman” is not only unique but unheard of in a romance and masala-filled industry such as Bollywood.

The film was set to release on India’s Republic Day, Jan. 26, but has been moved to the 25th as of now. The team has already released some hilarious behind the scenes clips and new music.

“Toilet: Ek Prem Katha” was also a film that spread awareness of difficulties in rural India. In the film, the lead characters played by Kumar and Bhumi Padnekar struggled with their marriage because they didn’t have a toilet at home. Women had to wake up early to defecate in the fields which is inconvenient, uncomfortable, and unsanitary. Kumar had to battle with the elders of his hometown and his own father to convince them of the importance of having more indoor toilets for men and women.

Rarely do stars bring attention to this very real issue faced by Indians in rural areas. “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha” brought about not only awareness but also promoted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan initiative.

The much-loved action hero has been evolving his image over the years so this transition to social activist is but of little surprise. He started off as a using his training in martial arts to become the ultimate action hero. He even tried negative roles and took home the Best Villain award at the Filmfare and IIFA for the film “Ajnabee.”

He also tried his hand at being the romantic hero. Who could forget the epic romantic drama “Dhadkan?”

However, it was his career in comedy that took off with hits like “Hera Pheri” and later “Garam Masala,” “Mujhse Shaadi Karogi,” “Desi Boyz,” and the “Housefull” series. Kumar won the Filmfare award for Best Comedian for the film “Garam Masala,” and the IIFA for Best Comedian for the film  “Mujhse Shaadi Karogi.” He’s also won the Stardust Star of the Year award for “Heyy Baby,” “Namastey London,” and for “Housefull.”

These films cleverly combined comedy with solid plots. Still so, not all of Kumar’s films hit the mark. Though some hardcore Kumar fans loved his whacky films like “Rowdy Rathore” which brought him the Stardust best action hero award, film critics did not appreciate it. Many of his mindless comedies faced criticism for its lack of substance, poor storylines, and for even being misogynistic. Films like “Chandni Chowk to China,’ “Thank You,” and “Tees Maar Khan” lacked coherent storylines. His film “Joker” was so bad that even Kumar didn’t acknowledge the release of the film nor did he promote it.

Kumar was finally considered a serious actor when he shifted gears to more patriot films with heavy plotlines. Films like “Baby,” “Rustom,” “Holiday,” “Special 26,” and “Airlift” brought Kumar the title of a versatile actor. Kumar even took home the National Award for Best Actor for “Airlift” and “Rustom.” His film “OMG: Oh My God” was a thought-provoking satirical comedy regarding religion and perhaps, the start of his move to more socially conscious films like “Toilet” and “Jolly LLB 2.”

With “Padman” on the horizon, the rest of 2018 will see the release of the science fiction thriller “2.0” opposite Rajnikanth and “Gold” which is a biopic about the hockey player Balbir Singh Senior. In 2019, we will see the release of “Kesari” a film based on the battle of Saragarhi and “Mogul” an intriguing biopic based on the life of Gulshan Kumar, the founder of T-series music label.

Kumar has quietly built up his army of followers and he is using his powers for good. With his career at great heights, Kumar is using his influence productively, much like his contemporary Aamir Khan. Khan uses his position in the industry to educate the general public on topics like acid attacks, mental illness, rape, and more through his television show and his choice of films.

Both of these talented men show us that Bollywood films can and should be more than just one big masala-filled continuous dance number. They are pioneers shaping the future of the Indian film industry with their quality of work.

 

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