Movie Review: The Real Hero of ‘Phullu’ Is Its Message, Not Craft

‘Phullu’ is all about its message, not about the cinematic experience. 

4 min read
Jyoti Sethi and Sharib Ali Hashmi in a scene from <i>Phullu</i>.&nbsp;

Phullu is no cinematic experience. Abhishek Saxena’s public service 'period’ film is hardly even targeted at us, the urban elite. Surprisingly, the progressive short film never gets preachy, and to me, that is its biggest achievement. I also couldn’t help looking out curiously for reasons that made the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) declare it as 'adult’ content. But I couldn’t find one, not a single one.

Interestingly, Phullu is quite different from its suspected twin, the Akshay Kumar starrer Padman (from what the trailer reveals). Abhishek Saxena’s fictional character might even remind you of Salman Khan in Tubelight. He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed and loves his village and its people. Phullu (Sharib Ali Hashmi) makes trips to the city to bring monthly essentials for his bhabhis, the womenfolk of his village. Why don’t they, or their husbands, mind him doing this? Because he’s an innocent fool of course, and seemingly a bit effeminate too.

Though some might find it hard to believe that he had no idea about what janani rog really is, I think it is quite plausible. Do we really educate our boys and men in our villages about why a woman bleeds every month? Even the educated lot tiptoe around the subject. Abhishek and Sharib themselves admit to never have had bought a pad before the arrival of their respective wives.

Saxena attempts to hit hard at the stigma attached with menstruation in rural India. That’s his single point agenda through Phullu. But he has managed to garnish it with humour and romance.

Also Read: Dear CBFC, Will ‘Padman’ Suffer the Same Fate as Poor ‘Phullu’?

Phullu lives a content, happy life, despite his ever complaining and bawling mother, played by Nutan Surya, who drills the word mauga (meaning effeminate) deep into our village experience. She even forces him to get married, hoping that his wife will convince him to find a job in the city, and make something of himself. But she accidentally finds him his soulmate, the only one who truly gets him. Jyoti Sethi as Bigni becomes Phullu’s inspiration and their bedroom romance makes for a few laughs too.

On one of his trips to the city Phullu meets the wise beggar and street singer played by Inaamulhaq of Airlift fame. His guest appearance lifts the story and cracks you up. In fact, it is this beggar that really spells out the entire premise of the film - women, irrespective of their religion, are born to live difficult lives.

Sharib Ali Khan in a scene from <i>Phullu. </i>
Sharib Ali Khan in a scene from Phullu.
In a nutshell, Phullu learns more about menstruation in the city and feels he must do something for the women back home, especially his wife, who had been complaining of an infection ‘down there’. The stigma follows him to the city as well. But he manages to get a job in a pad factory and decides to go back with bags full of pads and important information.

Unlike Arunachalam Muruganantham, the real Padman from Tamil Nadu, Phullu’s wife doesn’t leave him out of embarrassment. She thinks of him as an artist, a messiah. But that’s not enough. His loving bhabhis are now chasing him in anger, appalled by his request to try out the pads he's made with his own hands.

But he won’t let his experiment fail for nothing. Finally, he has a eureka moment. He cuts his hand, collects blood in a plastic glove and ties his pad between the legs of a sari clad doll. Everyone thinks that his wife’s death has driven him to insanity.

Sharib Ali Hashmi introduces the handmade pad to the women of his village, in a scene from <i>Phullu. </i>
Sharib Ali Hashmi introduces the handmade pad to the women of his village, in a scene from Phullu.

Finally, his experiment works. But sadly, Abhishek Saxena’s might not. He made Phullu with the sole purpose of educating young village boys and girls about the stigma around ‘that time of the month’. But Mr Nihalani’s ‘A’ certificate is proof that those who mistake this shame to be our country’s reality, will probably never be able to see beyond it. But people like Abhishek Saxena will try nevertheless.

While as a film Phullu is nothing to write home about, one can’t deny that its message for the intended target audience, is one that’s the need of the hour. It might be very basic in terms of its writing, performances and production, but then again, its message is its true star.

But you are left stumped at one thing- what’s adult about menstruation?

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