Akshay Kumar’s newest venture, PadMan, is a movie based on a man who took it upon himself to make low-cost sanitary napkins after he discovered his wife couldn’t afford to buy one due to their high prices. This man from Coimbatore – Arunachalam Muruganantham – initiates discussions about menstruation and the need for easily available and accessible menstrual hygiene products for all women.
Although he manages to draw the scorn of his fellow villagers and community, he finally succeeds in making a cost-effective machine that produces low-cost and hygienic sanitary napkins that can be afforded by rural and poor women. Although Arunachalam Muruganantham and his machine have been instrumental in providing women with a basic need, the promotion and marketing of this seemingly noble film has been problematic.
Menstruation continues to be a highly stigmatised subject throughout varied landscapes in India. Be it rural or urban homes, uneducated or highly educated homes, poor or rich homes, menstruation is still something women whisper about to each other, hide from men and treat with disgust, shame and even guilt.
Although the marketing for PadMan doesn’t look problematic at first. When you look closely, all it is, is a marketing gimmick and is not helpful in the least bit.
The most problematic aspect of the promotion of this movie was Akshay Kumar collaborating with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) student wing – the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) during the promotion of the film in Delhi University (DU). ABVP is well known for its violent anti-minority and anti-feminist views.
Akshay Kumar collaborating with them and waving their flag to promote a movie like PadMan that deals with the story of a man who was trying to eliminate the stigma around menstruation and openly talking about menstrual hygiene products is a massive paradox at play.
The PadMan challenge is another aspect of the promotion of this film that has to be addressed. The challenge essentially entails Bollywood celebrities holding up a sanitary napkin and taking a picture with it and posting it on social media. With a lot of celebrities accepting this challenge and nominating others for it, this challenge has probably managed to promote the film more effectively than any other form of promotion the makers and actors previously engaged in.
Although the challenge has proven to be an excellent marketing technique and it wouldn’t be problematic if left at that, but the challenge claims to eliminate the stigma and taboo surrounding menstruation. This is not only untrue but also reduces the problem to something exceedingly simple that can be solved with a few pictures, and most importantly, it takes away from the real efforts put in by several people working against menstruation taboos.
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Menstruation being a deeply stigmatised subject that is treated with disgust, cannot be normalised in a deeply patriarchal society by celebrities taking pictures with sanitary napkins. In a country where people aren’t even educated about menstruation and constantly buy into myths about it, educating people against taboos should be the first and foremost priority.
We live in a country where many women do not understand their own bodies because we refuse to teach them about it because of the stigma surrounding the subject. Many women do not know how to properly care for themselves while menstruating, how to take care of hygiene and prevent infections while on their period.
Holding up a sanitary napkin will not change the reality on the ground. The lack of education surrounding the subject of menstruation will prevail and the stigma associated with it will continue to be as strong as ever. A question we should be asking in association with Muruganantham’s work is – what is the price and brand of the sanitary napkins being brandished by Bollywood celebrities on social media?
Most importantly, it discounts the work of activists and people who have spent time, resources and hard work, to not only crumble the stigma around menstruation but to educate people about it, to teach them fact from myths, making sanitary products available and accessible to thousands of women. It takes away the credit due to grassroots activists and workers.
The PadMan challenge gives these Bollywood celebrities undue credit. The people with more capital will have the most visibility. The work by activists that have worked very hard but do not have any public visibility will be lost in the shadows of these actors.
The PadMan challenge also completely ignores the unsustainability of commercial sanitary napkins. A woman creates an average of 125 kilograms of menstrual waste during her menstruating years in the form of used sanitary pads. Without proper means of disposal, these pads pile up. Commercially available sanitary napkins can take about 500 to 800 years to break down. Ergo, it’s the need of the hour to switch to alternative menstrual products like re-usable cloth pads, biodegradable pads, and menstrual cups.
The intention isn’t to disallow or condemn Bollywood for taking up social causes, but it is to question their sincerity in doing so. Social causes taken up by Bollywood for a movie’s promotion does not remain a subject of interest to them once the movie has been released.
These are people with a voice and incredible visibility, these are people that can actually bring about a change if they want to, but the efforts made by most actors are always limited to the days leading up to a film’s release and then the passion and zeal towards the cause then seems to be lost.
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Featured Image Credit: The Indian Express