A woman’s secret, a man’s oath
Padman – Synopsis
Biography on Tamil Nadu activist Arunachalam Muruganantham, whose mission was to provide sanitary napkins to poor women of rural areas. Who would use rag cloths or leaves during periods where the use of sanitary napkins was rare. After he did not get fruitful results from his family and a medical college he approached, he decided to try it himself by making a uterus out of football bladder and filling goat’s blood in it. He would roam around the whole day with the bladder, the aim was to check the absorption rate of the sanitary napkins made by him.
Padman – Review
So, I just saw Padman and I had to immediately write a review about it! Which clearly goes to say that I enjoyed the movie. Maybe it is because I am a woman and could very intimately relate with the concept of the movie.
This is the second movie, that I know of, inspired by the Menstrual Man of India – Arunachalam Muruganantham. First being Phullu (2017) directed by Abhishek Saxena. I don’t really think this movie gained much attention except for the controversy where the movie was given the ‘A’ (Adult) rating by the censor board. I guess we should feel grateful that Padman didn’t meet the same fate. Yet, seeing as Padman has been banned from being screened in Pakistan, it is safe to assume that the whole world has a long way to go before the biological reality of women bleeding for 5 days a week, every month becomes as common to discuss as the common cold. Actually, I would be grateful if we could discuss menstruation has normally as we discuss sex.
It makes me perplexed at the sheer negligence that the issue of women’s sanitation faces. It is a phenomenon as old as a human being yet it took us so long to figure out a way to deal with blood flowing out of our bodies and we still have a long battle ahead.
Before getting to the movie review I want to share Arunachalam Muruganantham’s Ted Talk on the sanitary pad revolution that he created.
About the Movie
Getting back to the movie… The story behind Padman is beyond a doubt inspirational. A husband, (Lakshmikant) wanting to make low-cost sanitary pads so that his wife (and other women in the village) would not need to wear dirty, unhygienic rags during her chums (menstrual cycle). In order to achieve this goal Lakshikant even to the extent of testing his DIY pads on himself. His determination and open mindset are misplaced amongst the villagers who still live with an archaic mentally in regards to ‘women problems’.
Lakshmikant sacrifices several years of his life, losing his wife and family in the process and taking a big loan as well but ultimately, he creates a machine or rather recreates the high-tech pad-making-machine into a simple and cost-effective version. All the while, Lakshmikant faced ridicule and ostracization from friends and villagers who came to know that he was creating such a ‘dirty thing’. It is ironical that the demographic of women for whom he was trying to create the machine was turning out to be his greatest enemies. Even his wife left him claiming that the biggest disease affecting women is not menses but shame.
But, despite all the hardships and obstacle Lakshmi did achieve his goal but was neck-deep in debt. Just then a fairy, aka Paree (Sonam Kapoor) entered his life and brought him opportunities which helped him expand his venture and bring cost-effective sanitary pads and livelihood to thousands of women across various rural villages in India. But not only in India, the demand for his machines came from several Asian and African countries as well.
The movie definitely was impactful and brought a relevant topic to the mainstream media and made the conservative and traditional Indian society at least think about, if not start conversations, about the shocking state of hygiene and sanitation of women and periods. I think every family should watch this together and start discussing such issues and find solutions. It is time to leave behind the traditional practices and adopt healthy practices and mindset about periods.
In the beginning, the movies show scenes of villages where the villagers have extreme reactions to the very mention of periods. Many might find it overexaggerated but it is still the reality for many women. The acting of the lead actors was also really good. I enjoyed Sonam Kapoor’s role immensely. The dialogues and script writing was also quite good and witty. I was actually glad that the ensuing romance between Lakshmi and Paree were secondary and the movie makers kept the main focus on the social and moral issue of pads and the taboos of menstruation.
I agree that the movie is almost revolutionary in getting the conversation going about menstruation but I think it did have negatives and drawbacks. I wouldn’t call this ground-breaking but surely inspirational.
One of the problems I had with the movie was how it kept emphasizing some inaccurate information about menstruation and sanitary pads. The movie kept repeatedly mentioning ‘5-day test series’, 5 days of bleeding. This is such a wrong assumption. An average menstrual cycle lasts 3-5 days and with some people can be 2-7 days long as well. So, the repetitive mention of 5 days of bleeding really got on my nerves.
Secondly, in one scene Lakshmi counts and hands Paree 5 pads while she is on her chums. This also did not sit well with me. The general rule is that a pad should be changed every 3-4 hours or at least every 6 hours to prevent bacteria build-up, infection, itching or scratching and to avoid odour from building up. Yet, the movie kept giving the impression that one pad would last one whole day. This shows that there is still a lack of awareness about using such products.
Thirdly, the movie had a few lines which created the impression that a man who can’t provide pads for his wife or family is not a man. I felt this was slightly uncalled for as a poor household which can’t afford proper food can definitely not afford a bad. I agree that sanitary means of dealing with periods are required but more than that a change of mindset and increased awareness is required. Women and men need to be explained about the menstrual cycle. Why does it happen? How does it happen? What are the available options in the market? How to take care of one’s health during periods? The right type of nutrition, care and proper use and disposal of rags or pads are needed.
I think pads are not the ultimate solution. Just handing a woman a pad does not guarantee sanitation. Even a rag treated properly can work in the same manner as a pad but a pad affords more mobility. A pad not used, changed and disposed of properly can also lead to spread of diseases. Also, for rural women, the disposal of used sanitary napkins would likely cause further shame. In India, there is no established method of disposing of used sanitary pads. These pads often end up attracting wild animals who rip and shred these pads creating a mess and a playground for bacteria and other germs to grow and spread.
In fact, I would like that India goes beyond pads and promote menstrual cups instead. Menstrual cups are more cost-effective, longer lasting, chemical free and creates almost no waste. A menstrual cup can be used repeatedly for 5-10 years. It is made from medical grade silicone so is safe for use. It can be placed inside the body during periods up to 9 hours without changing. Also, since it is washed with preferably lukewarm water after every use it is very sanitary as well. But this dream seems to be far-fetched in a country where every household does not even own a toilet. On top of which, menstrual cups are meant to be inserted into the vagina which is even more of a taboo topic and unheard of in conservative and traditional Indian communities. This is the reason even tampons are not very common in India. Anything meant to be shoved up the vagina is considered wrong and unacceptable.
Here is an article by MindBodyGreen about the advantages of using a menstrual cup,
In the traditional Indian society, there are several stereotypes that a ‘bleeding’ woman faces. I can say that some of these practices like restricting women’s activities, banning her from the kitchen and sleeping in a separate room had some basis in earlier times when there was nothing but some cloth rags or leaves to hold the blood. It was a matter of hygiene and sanitation. But this does not give anyone the right to label a menstruating woman as impure or treat her like an untouchable or pariah.
I find it ironic that Indian parents and society are so obsessed with a married couple bearing children, as many and as quickly as possible, yet the biological process which enables the miracle of babies is shunned and looked down upon. Even more absurd and mind-boggling is that women accept pain, struggles and discrimination as part and parcel of being a woman. Most of the taboos and stereotypes are imposed and carried on by women on their own sex and relations rather than an external entity.
It is important to clarify that bleeding is not a disease. It as natural a process as eating or breathing. Similarly, a woman menstruating may face discomforts but she is not impure or filthy. Vaginal blood is not something toxic or contagious. It is the same blood which runs through the entire body of any living human being.
We still see cases of women being stopped from playing sports so that their hymens don’t rupture accidently. Or, god forbid, that a girl does not bleed on her first night with husband then all the virtues and ‘value’ of the girl is brought into question as if she is a commodity and the entire purpose of any woman is to get a husband and produce kids. There are even chances of the poor girl being beaten (sometimes to death) because her virginity is in doubt. Example of this can be seen from the latest new article which talks about a tribal community which has brides take the virginity test and if they fail the test then the repercussions are humiliating and severe.
But, this is not a problem only plaguing India. And not all Indian practices were borne out of ignorance. Ancient Indian communities did understand the link between menstruation and health of a woman. Several practices were created to ensure the good health of women which most likely got blurred and morphed into illogical and cruel practices with time and lack of awareness. Many did not change or adapt with the changing times and advent of new technologies. The argument is debatable and it is full of grey areas. Nonetheless, here is academic Ted Talk by Sinu Joseph who compares the Menstrual Health in India with other countries in the world and talks about the origins of the various menstrual taboos in different communities of India.
However, just like in Lakshmi and Arunachalam Muruganantham’s case, the fight is not just of women. Awareness and knowledge need to be spread to all genders and sexes. In today’s economy driven world, dragging women down by the shackles of menstruation does not only affect the women but also the economy of any country but significantly reducing the number of able workers. Here is another Ted Talk by Pravin Kumar who talks about the importance of men getting the conversation started about menstruation as well.
Have you seen ‘Padman’? Did it change your perception about periods? If not, what do you think about the topic? Do you plan to watch the movie? Do you think that more such movies are needed in mainstream cinema?