In our society, parents still hesitate to have that all-important talk with their adolescents on puberty and the changes that come with it. Now is the time to do it, and lift the awkwardness around puberty and menstruation.
Many women still talk about menstruation in hushed tones. Words such as ‘that time’, ‘date’ and 'out of order' are used to hint about periods. That is why, I feel privileged that being an almost-teen, who just entered puberty, I am able to write a review of a film that talks about menstruation, and I am able to use the word period and menses like I would use the word selfie and bestie. I find this so empowering; I am thrilled about it. That in itself signifies a big step towards removing the stigma around periods. It's just amazing that Bollywood has finally made a movie on it.
Pad Man is an eye-opening film inspired by the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham, the social activist and innovator. It depicts the struggle and triumph of a man who tries to make low-cost sanitary pads for his wife and in turn, triggers a social revolution.
Lakshmikant (Akshay Kumar), who is newly married to Gayathri (Radhika Apte), notices that Gayathri uses soiled clothes and filthy rags to protect herself during periods, instead of a sanitary napkin. As Lakshmi is aware of the dangers of using unhygienic methods and the infections it can cause, he insists that Gayathri use a pad. Gayathri, however, refuses, as pads are expensive. To keep the expenses from going haywire, Lakshmi unsuccessfully tries to make pads out of cotton. Still, he does not get discouraged and is relentless in his pursuit to give a better alternative for women to use during their periods, that could be a viable option compared to using unhygienic means.
But periods are a ‘women’s problem,’ so he soon becomes the butt of jokes in his village because of his insistence on making affordable pads. His family is embarrassed by his actions. He faces ridicule because of superstitions regarding this issue and is eventually banished from the village.
Despite all the hardship, the determined Pad Man manages to invent a simple machine that manufactures low-cost and safe pads, with the help of Pari (played by Sonam Kapoor). His invention is recognised by several influential organisations and his mission turns out to be successful, as it provides cheap pads as well as employment to several women. An inspiring tale about imagination and innovation.
Akshay Kumar’s portrayal of the sensitive man on a mission comes out wonderfully, although it seems a little awkward to see him as a just-married man. Radhika Apte simply steals the show. Her amazing acting helps depict the delicate bond between husband and wife. The scene where she realises how lovingly Lakshmi treats her compared to how her own brother treats his wife, brings out her talent. Sonam Kapoor also plays her part well, although her role is largely superfluous, more like the protagonist's sounding board. The slight romantic angle between Lakshmi and Pari was hugely unnecessary, as it did nothing to advance the plot. The story is based in Madhya Pradesh, rather than in Tamil Nadu, where Arunachalam is from, but that did not change the plot a whole lot, despite some people complaining about it. It only changed some aspects of the story.
Even today women are made to feel awkward about buying a pack of sanitary napkins. The orthodox beliefs around menstruation and lack of awareness about women’s health and hygiene are brought out well in the film. It is to the film’s and the director, R Balki’s credit that it is appealing to all ages and manages to keep the audience’s attention. It's good to see that Bollywood is making more films that are socially significant. Toilet: Ek Prem Katha was another such film.
This movie has elements of humour, which makes the film more entertaining. Without the comedy, the movie would have looked like a documentary. Pad Man is a unique film from Bollywood. It has good actors, songs, and a great grasp of the social situation.
Five important things the movie reminds us:
1. Menstruation is a completely natural and biological process.
2. Adolescent girls need to be given the right information about their body, so that they can make safe and informed decisions regarding their health.
3. Many girls have a horrible experience when they first get their periods. Imagine being told nothing about such an important milestone in their lives. I have friends who thought they had cancer and thought they would soon die.
4. Menstrual hygiene management needs to be spoken about more openly to avoid sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and reproductive tract infections (RTIs).
5. There are many myths and misconceptions about periods that do not allow woman to live with dignity and it is high time these are dispelled.
The author is a writer/blogger who blogs at www.vanshikadevuni.blogspot.com
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