Movie Review: PAD MAN
“Pad Man” is a 2018 Indian movie written and directed by R. Balki, starring Akshay Kumar, Sonam Kapoor, and Radhika Apte in the main roles. It is inspired by and loosely based on the story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, a social entrepreneur from Tamil Nadu who introduced low-cost sanitary pads and raised awareness for menstrual hygiene in rural India.
The movie does not attempt to be a documentary but instead focuses on telling an entertaining and gripping story. Following Akshay Kumar’s charismatic Laxmikant Chauhan, it quickly introduces a village in rural India, where the topic of menstruation is taboo and considered unclean, where women stay outside the house for five days a month, and where men are not supposed to have any knowledge of or contact with them.
As Laxmikant discovers that his wife uses a dirty rag instead of sanitary pads, he sets his mind on helping her. The pads available in the store are too expensive, so he attempts to make them himself, failing several times and becoming first the village’s laughing stock and then an outcast. He leaves his village in shame and embarks on a series of misadventures that ends up with him constructing a pad-making machine, winning a national innovation prize, and starting a grass-roots business model that makes low-cost sanitary pads available throughout India.
Despite not being a great commercial success, the movie with its entertaining storyline, musical numbers and famous lead actor will reach a lot more people in India than a documentary about the same topic would have. The real-life machines of Arunachalam Muruganantham have been installed in 23 out of 29 Indian states since 2006, and clear progress has been made: but according to a 2017 survey, 43% of Indian women still do not have access to sanitary pads, and more than 45% felt that menstruation was still considered taboo in Indian society. Especially in rural areas, women use unsanitized cloth, ash or husk sand instead of sanitary pads, which can lead to all sorts of infections and complications and severely limits their mobility during their periods.
The movie does a good job in approaching the topic without prejudice, but also without undue respect: it tells its story in the familiar trappings of any Bollywood film, with the good-hearted and somewhat naïve hero overcoming a series of obstacles and finally being celebrated by the very people that scoffed at him earlier. There is humor, there are songs, there are bright colors and a sentimental ending: and it all revolves around menstrual cycles and menstrual hygiene.
The movie does its part to create awareness and normalize the discussion, turning menstruation from a taboo topic into what it actually is: something completely ordinary that affects half the world’s population every single month.