This amusing line is spoken by our film’s protagonist towards the end—a truly inspiring one for the dreamers of the world.
Based on the life of Padma Shri Arunachalam Muruganantham, the film begins with Laxmi (the name symbolizing his connect with his feminine side) realizing that his wife Gayatri (Radhika Apte) uses a dirty rag when she’s on her period. He decides to purchase a sanitary napkin pack for his wife only to realize that not only is it expensive, even his wife is reluctant to spend that amount on herself.
This is one of the most important statements the film makes—that sanitary napkins are simply unaffordable for most women in this country! The film takes a laudable stance in calling this out. At the same time, it’s careful not to comment on the government’s controversial high taxation on sanitary pads.
PadMan scores in going all out in showing Laxmi’s journey. His experiments with opening a sanitary pad to see what’s inside, to trying to replicate it, to his own simulation of the menstruation experience (one of the film’s highlights) prove his mad determination.
The film falters in its slightly condescending tone towards women. No woman in the beginning understands/encourages Laxmi’s vision, be it the wife who is happy to give Rs 50 to a makeshift temple rather than spend it on pads, to his educated sisters, to medical students. None of these women are interested in bettering their lives, nor are they concerned about their own health. In one scene, when Laxmi tells his wife that using dirty rags can cause fatal illnesses, she brushes it aside saying, “sharm se badi koi bimaari nahin.” In fact, she passes another sexist comment about men crying, when Laxmi sheds tears in an emotional moment. But then, the film is replete with such dialogue about what is the meaning of being a ‘mard’. Out of place in a film such as this, don’t you find?
The only woman who ‘gets it’ comes much later in the form of the urbane Sonam Kapoor who acts as a catalyst in Laxmi achieving recognition, and in giving shape to his vision of menstrual health for rural women.
In a particularly heart-warming scene, we see women who’ve taken over the pad-making factory worshipping the machine. This is path-breaking, as the film introduces us to homes where a woman on her period has to live in seclusion and avoid going to the temple among a hundred other restrictions.
We only have to think back to the recent Sabarimala case (only females in the non-menstruating age-group allowed in the sanctum sanctorum) to realize that people still choose to live in the dark ages.
Ironically, another part of the world is now moving away from disposable pads to environmentally sustainable menstruation with attractively designed cloth pads and menstrual cups. One wishes the film also spoke about organizations like Saathi (pads from banana fibre), Goonj (pads out of waste cloth), EcoFemme (organic cloth pads) and others that are part of the ‘green the red’ movement working at grassroots level.
PadMan keeps it focused on the man’s journey—his success trickling down to transforming several lives, and his almost-saintly lack of attachment to money. PadMan has its moments— it shines and falters intermittently. But what’s most important is that an A-list star backed film unabashedly talks about and mainstreams the topic of menstrual hygiene. In a country where temples ban women because they have periods, this film has my applause for that alone!
Read more from the author:
Padmaavat: Trial by Fire
Sonia Chopra is a critic, columnist and screenwriter with over 15 years of experience. She tweets on @soniachopra2