This Bollywood film tackling period poverty is EVERYTHING
Dubbed the world’s first feature film on menstruation, Pad Man, which hits cinemas on February 9th, is based on the true the story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, a welder from a rural village in Tamil Nadu, who twenty years ago invented a low-cost machine to produce sanitary pads after he realised his wife was using old rags because she couldn’t afford to buy expensive imported sanitary products from shops.
Considering the taboo that still exists in India – periods are rarely talked about, even behind closed doors – the film is shining a much-needed light on the issue of period poverty for millions of women around the world. In India, only 12 per cent of women have access to sanitary products and the rest are forced to use old newspapers and rags, which risks infection and harming their reproductive health. Meanwhile, a quarter of all girls in India drop out of school after hitting puberty because of the shame of menstruation, impacting their education and development for a lifetime.
Taking on the lead role of Muruganantham is one of India’s most celebrated Bollywood stars, Akshay Kumar, who recently produced and starred in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (Toilet: A Love Story), the world’s first feature film on the open-defecation crisis – which philanthropist Bill Gates named as one of 2017’s ‘amazing moments of hope and progress’.
The significance of Pad Man is huge – and in an unprecedented wave of He For She badassery, it has triggered thousands of men in India (and the rest of the world) to take to social media and share sanitary pad selfies in a bid to debunk the stigma of silence. Before the film had even been released, the hashtag #PadMan had racked up 31.5k Instagram posts and rising, with a further 10.8k posts for #PadManChallenge, to encourage more men to pose with a pad.
With the conversation around period poverty already gathering pace in the UK, thanks to initiatives such as activist Amika George’s #FreePeriods campaign, and the news that Scotland is to give free sanitary products to women with low incomes, it is the plight of women in India that will be brought to the forefront thanks to this ground-breaking film.
The main character’s long-suffering wife is played by Radhika Apte, and the film also stars 32-year-old actress Sonam Kapoor (whose father is the Slumdog Millionaire actor, Anil Kapoor) and she has said of the film: ‘It’s a very compelling story about a very ordinary man who did something extraordinary not for himself, but for women and for the woman he loved.’ She added: ‘It’s so relevant to what is going on around the world at the moment yet it has barely been spoken about internationally, let alone in India. I know girls from very progressive backgrounds like mine that still have a sense of shame and secrecy about it.’
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And it all began with the bravery and ingenuity of one man: Arunachalam Muruganantham – a so-called ‘lower caste’ man who dropped out of school at 14 and went on to revolutionise menstrual hygiene for thousands of women, before he was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. We could all learn a thing or two from Muruganantham. Let’s all be more Pad Man.