Padman: Shaping the narrative surrounding menstrual hygiene with care and ironic wit

Published: February 12, 2018
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The film has been appreciated all over India for drawing attention to a vital health issue. PHOTO: IMDB

From Airlift (2016) to Rustom (2016) and from Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (2017) to recently released biopic Padman, Akshay Kumar is portraying inspirational characters and filmgoers are loving his selection of movie subjects. His latest thought-provoking venture Padman revolves around a taboo topic – menstruation. The movie skilfully highlights basic hygiene that is necessary during menstrual cycles.

Based on Twinkle Khanna’s short story The Sanitary Man of Sacred Land, Padman is about Tamil Nadu’s Padmashree winner, Arunachalam Muruganantham, a social activist who not only empowered the village women but also created inexpensive sanitary pads. The film has been appreciated all over India for drawing attention to a vital health issue.

However, in Pakistan, Padman has been banned due to its “unmentionable sensitive content”. According to Central Board of Film Censors,

“We cannot allow a film whose name, subject and story are not acceptable yet in our society.”

Moreover, Lollywood pundits criticised film distributors for obtaining film rights that are “ruining Islamic traditions, history and culture”.

It is unfathomable to me how an inspiring movie related to menstrual hygiene can ruin our tradition, history and culture. Sadly, it shows our societal attitude and reveals the narrow-minded way we deal with taboo subjects, particularly the core problems related to women. We want to adopt ostrich policy by hiding and labelling substantial issues as un-Islamic and taboos.

Keeping in mind the dogmatic conservatism in South Asia, one must appreciate the courage and efforts of filmmaker cum screenwriter, R Balki, for shedding light on a peculiar matter. His film tells the story of a spouse who stands alone to fight insular mentalities, social customs and taboos. Troubled by his wife Gayatri’s (played by Radhika Apte) practice of using dirty rags during her menstrual cycle, caring and creative welder Lakshmikant Chauhan (played by Kumar) decides to make something useful and economical for his wife.

Photo: IMDb

Photo: IMDb

Putting aside all the social and cultural restraints, Chauhan attempts to ascertain the procedure by experimenting different ways and incorporating cotton, plastic sheets and other fabrics to create an effective sanitary product. Initially his wife, mother and sisters are not ready to accept his behaviour of openly talking about safety and menstrual hygiene. However, Chauhan’s determination does not falter and that results in an invention of an inexpensive sanitary pad-making device. He not only invents a useful machine but also generates working positions for rural women and makes them capable of earning a decent livelihood.

Photo: Screenshot

Photo: IMDb

The director and his team’s approach meritoriously covered the ground-breaking invention in an enjoyable way. The storyline clearly lashes out at social customs, morals and absurd misconceptions encircling menstrual problems. It expresses the obnoxious rituals, coating it with ironic wit, to show the absurdity in society related to periods.

However, there are two things that are not truly incorporated in Padman; one is Sonam Kapoor’s character and other is Chauhan’s speech at the United Nations, as both seem charred and overexcited.

As far as the performances are concerned, all the actors did a great job of producing convincing characters on screen. Kumar brilliantly reflected the mediocrity as well as powerful persona of Chauhan. He skilfully managed to portray the aura of a straightforward man, his creativity and determinism.

On the other hand, Apte beautifully exhibited the innocence, irritation and embarrassment of a troubled Gayatri.

Photo: Screenshot

Kapoor perfectly portrays the educated liberal woman, Pari. Although her character was not a demand of the plot, it was added to give the story a romantic perspective, but Kapoor manages to give a fresh and convincing performance for spectators.

Photo: IMDb

All in all, from articulating menstrual hygiene to empowering rural women, Padman concentrates on the personality of a social activist and his struggles to revolutionise the concept of sanitary napkins. It is truly a dynamic story, unfolding a revolting chronicle to the society in a pleasant manner. The gripping script will keep you glued to your seat. And a few plot weaknesses aside, it is definitely worth a watch.

Tanveer Khadim

Tanveer Khadim

An avid reader, freelance writer and a blogger, Tanveer is pursuing fashion designing. She has a passion for cooking, attended cookery courses and tweets as @TheFusionDiary (twitter.com/TheFusionDiary)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    I’m glad to see Indians taking up sensitive issues, recognizing it and attempting to fixing it through art, which is what a part of the function of art is.
    It goes to show how deep Art is embedded in the culture.
    As to Pakistani censor board not even bothering to watch the movie, it goes to show how un-India Pakistan has become and more like the Arab states, where women issues are buried under old, antiquated, tribalistic ideas of shame and women’s honour.
    Hard to believe Pakistan and India were one country once. I guess one culture is flexible and self-reflecting and capable of repairing itself. The other.. Lets not even bother.Recommend

  • Sumara Amin

    I think circulating a menstrual hygiene awareness to the masses through a movie is amazing pedagogy.It is message to unaware people.especially parents should be informed about menstrual hygiene rather than feeling insult.Moreover its not a taboo in our society.Taboo is our thought process about things.Let me declare that menstrual cycle is natural.How can u consider it taboo?. Just need to reflect on our thought process of perceiving things.Recommend

  • Tariq Ali

    Being a man, I strongly believe that it is essential to tell women about their natural cycle and importance of hygiene. Padman should be allowed to release in Pakistan so that people here learn the significance of healthy lifestyle.Recommend

  • Humanity

    Pakistan needs this education – Women most importantly & men too need to know .
    Please release this Movie in Pakistan . very happy that India is taking this step
    Pakistan should also and why not ?Recommend

  • vinsin

    “Keeping in mind the dogmatic conservatism in South Asia” – this is a blatant statement and not true. Those ideas exists only in areas either influenced by Islam or among follower of Vaishnavism in India.Recommend

  • Atif Faraz

    Films should be made about these problems and people who are doing work should be welcomed.Recommend

  • Veer Singh

    I’m sure nobody is surprised that a progressive, though-provoking & educational film like ‘PadMan’ is banned in Pakistan. The country is still living in the dark ages.Recommend

  • gp65

    “From Airlift (2016) to Rustom (2016) and from Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (2017) to recently released biopic Padman, Akshay Kumar is portraying inspirational characters and filmgoers are loving his selection of movie subjects. ”
    Do not forget Jolly LLB 2 about fake encounters by police. In view of Rao Anwar’s case, that too should resonate with folks in Pakistan.
    “His latest thought-provoking venture Padman revolves around a taboo topic – menstruation.”
    Actually, I am surprised that you describe it as a taboo topic. His whole idea, including the manner in which the promotions were carried out, is to make it clear that there was nothing taboo about a natural cycle that half the humanity goes through across religion, language, race, geography.Recommend

  • shiv

    I think now the girls can declare to their fathers, “Hi dad, I am menstruating today”, to friends male and female, “Hi friends, I am menstruating today”, to office colleagues, “Hi guys, I am menstruating toady and I am wearing sanitary napkins as advised in the film Padman. “. “Happy menstruation” will be the replies.Recommend