PadMan: a taboo-busting film

Posted on: 24 February 2018

As 2017 departs and 2018 begins to take shape, Freda’s goal stays the same: to eradicate the stigma around periods that pervades throughout our culture.

Of course, we are just part of a greater movement, a movement whose progress is symbolised by the upcoming movie PadMan, written and directed by R. Baiki, starring Akshay Kumar, Sonam Kapoor and Radhika Apte in lead roles. This is a huge step forward: the first blockbuster to directly address the superstitions that surround periods, myths so prevalent especially in countries such as India. The film will be based on ‘The Sanitary Man of Sacred Land’, a short story from Twinkle Khanna’s book, ‘The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad’, which is, in turn, inspired by the lifeof Arunachalam Muruganantham, a social activist who revolutionized the concept of menstrual hygiene in rural India by creating a low-cost sanitary napkins machine.

Akshay Kumar, who will play Arunachalam Muruganantham, spoke keenly about taking on the responsibility to confront such a deep-rooted cultural issue, saying “I didn’t want to make a documentary, I wanted to make a commercial film so people can see it. It’s a film you can take your children to, even though it talks about sanitary pads. It’s a universal subject. Nobody has ever tried to touch this subject”.

These encouraging words point to a new direction in the fight for equality, as both sexes, not just women, persevere to expose harmful biases. Indeed, the story of Muruganantham should be an inspiration to all: after spotting his wife using ragged, dirty clothes during menstruation, items he said he would not use to “clean his scooter”, Muruganantham asked his wife why she wasn’t using pads. She pointed out to him that if she bought them, she wouldn’t be able to afford to buy milk or run the household. Thus, wanting to impress his wife, Muruganantham went into town to buy a pad. Having purchased it, he wondered why 10 grams of cotton, which at the time cost 10 paise, should sell for 4 rupees – 40 times the price. He decided that he would make them cheaper himself.

When Muruganantham investigated the period poverty in India, he discovered that fewer than one in 10 women used pads in the surrounding villages. His findings were reiterated by a 2011 survey by AC Nielsen, which found that only 12% of Indian women used pads. He said that in some rural areas, the percentage is far lower, as women resort to using substances such as sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash during menstruation.

Not only the poverty but also the taboo surrounding periods in India is directly dangerous. Women who do use cloths are often too embarrassed to dry them in the sun, meaning they don’t get disinfected. Shockingly, 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene. Kumar himself has already been involved in the struggle to remove taboos in India, most notably in the 2017 film Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, in which he played the protagonist Keshav Sharma, a film which directly addressed and revealed the fatal hygienic dangers associated with open defecation, especially in rural areas.

Meena Iyer of The Times of India gave that film 4 stars out of 5 saying, “Director Shree Narayan Singh holds up a mirror to society, showing us how our superstitious villagers, lazy administration and corrupt politicians have actually converted India into the world’s largest sh**-pond. Women especially, are treated more insensitively than cattle!”.

In a similar respect, PadMan acts as a plea to Indian politicians to pay attention to sanitary pads and to make their presence mandatory across institutions. In fact, the producers of the movie have already planned to show the film in various schools in smaller towns and cities with the aid of local ministries and the government. Given how urgently this film is needed, we at Freda send our praise and gratitude to everyone involved in PadMan.

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