Pad Man’s Akshay Kumar: “I don’t want to be just another famous actor who died of old age”

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Akshay Kumar has gone through multiple transitions on his climb to the top.
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The actor is known for his comedic roles, but now he is trying something new.
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“Pad Man” tackles the true story of a man who helped bring affordable sanitary pads to women across India.
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The film talks openly about the importance of ensuring women have access to hygiene products.
Updated 08 February 2018
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Pad Man’s Akshay Kumar: “I don’t want to be just another famous actor who died of old age”

DUBAI: Akshay Kumar has gone through multiple transitions on his climb to becoming one of the top-three grossing stars in Bollywood history. Starting his career as an action star, and then finding even more success with comedy, Kumar now aspires for something greater with his work.
With his recent films “Airlift” (2016) and “Toilet” (2017), Kumar has highlighted social issues and important moments in India’s recent past. While those films found considerable success, his new film “Pad Man” seems poised to surpass them both, tackling the true story of a man who helped bring affordable sanitary pads to women across India.
What caused this change? “Because with power comes great responsibility,” Kumar tells Arab News. “I want to not only entertain people, but I want to help create the change that’s needed in our country. I have a platform, now I want to do good with it.”
Now 50-years-old, Kumar reflects more often on his potential legacy.
“I don’t want to be just another famous actor who died of old age. I want to be someone who made a difference and left a mark in people’s hearts.”
Early in his career, he admits to me, this was not the case.
“If I were to be honest, earlier the greed was for money.”
Since Kumar has made the shift towards trying to effect social change, acting fulfills him in a far different way than it did then.
““In fact, it’s even more than before now. Now that I think I have enough and more, there’s been a shift in greed for doing more fulfilling work — work that will speak for itself, work that will entertain, work that will be etched in people’s memory.”
Who is the ‘Pad Man?’
In 2012, Kumar’s wife Twinkle Khanna wrote a book called “The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad,” which featured a short story based on the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham, who has been called a “superhero” for his role in improving menstrual hygiene across India. Muruganantham, who Kumar says is a wonderful man, “went to the ends of the earth to provide an affordable sanitary pad for his wife to make her life better, more comfortable and disease free, even though the pursuit cost him his marriage.
“I was incredibly intrigued by his story,” Kumar says, “which I think stands as the first reaction for the majority of people who hear about this film — purely because of the strong subject line, the issues and taboos relating to menstrual hygiene and the shocking data I was exposed to which just appalled me. I was so taken in by his story that I was onboard even before the script of Pad Man was written.”
Kumar wanted the film to be as palatable as possible for general audiences, something he credits the creative team for achieving.
“(I didn’t change) much really. The writers and director have done a great job with the script. Our only concern was to ensure and make a film that in no way makes anyone feel gross or uncomfortable. Yes, the subject is considered a taboo, but with all the trailers and songs by the time the audience reaches the theatres, they know what they are coming for.”
Kumar has since developed a personal relationship with Muruganantham, who it has been reported wanted only Kumar for the role.
“Arunachalam Muruganantham has not only got a cracking personality himself, but his story is just so intriguing, you can listen to his thoughts all day, his own one liners are clap-worthy, his opinions and views of seeing things a certain way is so pure and rare. For me he really is a real-life hero,” Kumar says.
With a string of socially-focused films under his belt, Kumar says he is not actively looking for the next.
“I’m not on a cause hunt. It just has so happened that these scripts have come my way and for whatever reasons managed to convince me to be a part of the project. Having said that, if I do get a script which is entertaining, along with highlighting a specific cause, why not.”
In the mean time, Kumar hopes that Pad Man can make a real difference in today’s India.
“If there was one thing that I had the power to change at the snap of my finger, it would definitely be making our country 100 percent sanitary pad wearing country. Hopefully, through this film, and with time, we manage to achieve this feat sooner than later.”


Olympic dreams: Palestinian swim team braves pollution to train in Gaza waters

Updated 22 October 2018
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Olympic dreams: Palestinian swim team braves pollution to train in Gaza waters

  • Conditions are far from perfect; the waves make serious training difficult and they have little equipment
  • ‘We lack even the simplest equipment such as goggles and swimsuits’
BEIT LAHIA, Palestinian Territories: On one of the world’s most polluted coastlines, 30 young Palestinians dive head first into the sea off the Gaza Strip, their minds filled with dreams of Olympic glory.
Aged between 11 and 16, they make up a rare swimming club in the Palestinian enclave, and perhaps its only mixed-sex one.
Coach Amjad Tantish talks through a warm-up before they race from the trash-strewn beach into the sea as he continues to bark instructions.
Conditions are far from perfect; the waves make serious training difficult and they have little equipment.
But Tantish explained that there are no free public swimming pools in the Gaza Strip, so they had to brave the sea.
“We lack even the simplest equipment such as goggles and swimsuits,” he said. “We don’t have any funding.”
The Mediterranean hugs the entire 40-kilometer western border of the Gaza Strip, but almost no one enters its waters.
The desperate shortage of energy and lack of sanitation infrastructure mean around 100 million liters of poorly treated sewage are pumped into the sea every day, according to the United Nations.
In the worst spots along the shore the sea is tinted brown.
More than 95 percent of tap water is polluted, and water-related diseases are the primary cause of child mortality in Gaza, according to the World Health Organization.
The UN says the situation has come about mainly because of Israel’s crippling land and sea blockade of Gaza, warning recently the enclave is “imploding.”
Israel says the measures are necessary to isolate Hamas, the group that runs Gaza and with which it has fought three wars since 2008.
It accuses the group of squandering international aid on arms and fortifications.
Israel has seized dozens of diving suits and other swimming aids it says Hamas was seeking to smuggle into Gaza for military purposes.
For those still willing to get wet, environmental experts say the water near Beit Lahia in northern Gaza has the lowest rates of pollution.
And so the team train there a few times a week, helping to fuel their dreams.
Tantish says the squad dreams of competing in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, though he knows that is improbable.
Even getting a visa to leave Gaza via Israel is an almost insurmountable hurdle.
“We have many opportunities to participate in outdoor training camps and in Arab competitions, but travel is a major obstacle,” he said.
The Palestine Olympic Committee sent only six athletes to the 2016 Games.
Four of those, including the two swimmers, were invited to attend despite not meeting the minimum requirements.
But even they had regular access to pools and neither were based in Gaza.
Abdul Rahman, 15, said he hopes to become a “hero and achieve first place in international competitions.”
Mixed-gender activities are rare in conservative Gaza, particularly in the sporting arena.
The girls mostly wear long black swim trousers and red blouses, with their heads largely uncovered.
Tantish, 42, said in the past it “was not an acceptable idea, we faced many difficulties and troubles.”
Now, he said, attitudes have changed.
“Families drop their daughters off to practice swimming and the proportion of women reached 30 percent.”
Rania, 32, was walking with her husband along the beach but stopped to watch the swimming.
“I don’t think being religious stops our girls from being like other people or from having this beautiful ambition,” she said.
Most of the girls joining this year decided to get involved at their own initiative, Tantish said.
Ruqiya, 14, said she loves the atmosphere at the club.
“I started learning to swim three years ago and recently I joined the team. My family supports me and I train and play with my friends in the sea.”
She dreams of becoming a professional: “We want a large swimming pool specially to train for the Olympics.”