Akshay Kumar has recently become the muse to the orifice. Fresh on the heels of Toilet: Ek Prem Kahani, a scatalogical homage to the policies of Swachh Bharat, comes Padman, moving the focus a few inches away to spread a social message on menstrual hygiene. Disgusting? Shocking? Certainly, the villagers are quick to rule the protagonist, Lakshmi, a pervert for his experiments with low-cost sanitary pads. Lakshmi’s character is loosely based on Tamil Nadu’s “menstrual man” Arunachalam Muruganantham. In a story of perseverance and entrepreneurial zeal worthy of a Silicon Valley techpreneur, Lakshmi plods along, butting his head against social and religious taboos, enduring scorn from his family and community, till his sheer bloody mindedness, literal and figurative, is finally rewarded.
The urban-chic Pari Walia, played by Sonam Kapoor, recognizes Lakshmi’s genius and encourages him to apply for an award from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). A triumphant arc in a journey that ends with redemption, a Padma Sri award and forgiveness from his squirming-with-shame wife and relatives ensues. Padma Sri for a Padman. Too many puns to count.
The film manages to critique the divide between urban and rural India and the challenge to make the slightest shift in tradition-bound rural society. In some sense, it is a timely sequel to Padmaavat, released last week.
Dressed in red and white, the ladies of the Bay led by Sheetal Gokhale, Kavita Agrawal and Nirupama Chebiyam went to watch Padman. The ladies who were Padmavatis of the Bay last month now hit the movie scene in support of menstruation without shame. Carrying placards, sanitary towels and smiles the ladies were raising social awareness about menstruation and raising funds for non-profit organizations called “Touch-a-life.” http://touchalife.org/ The Pink Brigade, an NGO in India, SAVE, as well as Empower Excel. Last month the ladies had gone dressed as Padmavatis to watch the movie Padmavat and raised money for the India Literacy Project.
The ladies that just wanna have fun, pav bhaji and mango lassi, generously donated by Shital Ashar, joined the the ranks of people fighting myths that control women. “Like I mentioned,” said Chitra Ram to Sheetal Gokhale while designing the placards, “Don’t use religion to control women.”
And as ladies of the Bay, they played with ideas from the valley. “My software is not compatible with your regressive version 1840. Please Upgrade. We need innovators that can change society; not just ones who make bigger cars and brighter phones,” wrote Chitra on the group’s Facebook wall.
The movie that was released across 3,350 screens worldwide; 2,750 screens in India and 600 screens overseas was also a plea towards Indian politicians to drive their attention towards sanitary pads and making it mandatory across institutions.
Here are some comments from the movie-goers:
Tanuja Bali – Loved the movie, from writing, acting to directing.. it’s a must watch.
Seema Khan – His (Akshay Khanna’s) film “Toilet” was also really a public service message. Hopefully it had an impact on public policy. I liked the movie despite the topic!
Poornima Kumar – I met the real PadMan at an INK conference in 2013. He talked about the travails of coming up with a cheaper design. He was a character one won’t forget very soon.
Anita Mehta had the last word when she wrote “Most women in India cannot afford sanitary napkins and make do with with dirty rags or worse. Kudos to this husband wife team for making a film highlighting the indignities women suffer during their periods, and telling the incredible true story of a villager who invented a low cost sanitary napkin. Menstrual hygiene is still an alarmingly taboo subject in India, with education and urbanity unable to prevent, for instance, a woman with her period from attending family rituals. There is an infuriating notion of the unclean attached to the period — a notion that makes little sense in a country full of mother-goddesses.”