What would you do if you learned that your spouse was doing something that could cause them physical harm?
Would you do what you could to stop that activity?
That is the premise that underlies the film Pad Man which is based on the true story of Arunachalam Muruganantham ("Muruga"), a Tamil Nadu-based social activist who revolutionized the concept of menstrual hygiene in rural India.
Early in his marriage, Muruga was shocked to learn that his wife was using old rags to deal with menstruation because she couldn’t afford sanitary pads. What's more, he learned that only 10-20% percent of menstruating women in India have access to proper personal hygiene products.
According to Soothe Healthcare,
Poor menstrual hygiene can cause fungal infections, Reproductive Tract Infection (RTI) and Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). Unhygienic practices also leave women vulnerable to infertility.
The biggest barrier to adoption of quality sanitary pads in India turned out to be ‘affordability’ and ‘accessibility’. Nearly 70 percent of women said that their families cannot afford sanitary pads.
Muruga became obsessed with the idea of creating inexpensive sanitary napkins for his wife.
Muruga began experimenting with various materials and processes to create low-cost sanitary napkins. But his research and experimentation soon made him a pariah in his community. Unable to deal with the stigma, Muruga's wife left him.
But Muruga wouldn't give up. After many years of testing and failing, he created a system of simple machines to make low-cost modern sanitary napkins. He built and distributed machines in rural villages throughout India. He trained women in these communities to make and distribute the product to other women. Not only did this provide jobs for the women, they helped create a much-needed awareness about menstrual hygiene.
In 2009, Muruga received a National Innovation Foundation award for his mini sanitary napkin machine.
In 2014, the UN Women recognized Muruga's achievement and he was included in TIME's 100 Most Influential People as "The entrepreneur who is an unlikely health crusader." In writing about Muruga in TIME, Ruchira Gupta explained how his invention sparked interest around the world. She concluded with the statement,
"Empathy is the most revolutionary emotion."
Twinkle Khanna (a.k.a. "Mrs. Funnybones") is a columnist who offers a humorous interpretation of daily life in her own unique, outspoken manner. She used Muruga's story as inspiration for the short story "The Sanitary Man of Sacred Land" in her book The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad which provided the storyline for Pad Man. While the story is a fictionalized account of Muruga's story, the characters and many of the circumstances are based on real events. Names have been changed, but the story's intent and impact remain intact.
Akshay Kumar (Twinkle Khanna's husband) and Radhika Apte bring the story of "Lakshmikant Chauhan" and his wife "Gayatri" to the screen with empathy and respect. Akshay Kumar exudes optimism, persistence and a great sense of humor in his role, making him the perfect choice to portray the real character in reel life. As Gayatri, Radhika Apte delivers a restrained but powerful performance as a woman trying to remain loyal to her husband but unable to live a life under siege by her community.
While Lakshmi toils, his wife recoils.
As Pari Walia, Sonam Kapoor convincingly steps into the role of a young woman-of-the-world who learns of Lakshmi's mission and steps in to help him succeed. The cameo appearance by Amitabh Bachchan highlights the important role that Bollywood superstars play to encourage entrepreneurs and innovators seeking to make a better India.
And finally, producer/director R. Balki's filmmaking style creates a comedy-docudrama that is educational, emotional and entertaining. Those watching Pad Man are richer for the experience.
While watching the film, I was impressed by the number of men in the audience, particularly for a film on this topic. I took it as a testament to the star power brought together to tell a compelling and important story.
The following playlist features the trailer and videos about the film and several videos highlighting Muruga's story.
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