Last week, I watched Pad Man, a riveting fictional retelling of an entrepreneur who developed cheap sanitary pads in India – Arunachalam Muruganantham. After watching the movie, I was so inspired that I felt I must explore the real Pad Man, and so I decided to write this post, discussing to what extent did the movie capture Muruganatham’s struggles and hardships.
Pad Man VS Arunachalam Muruganantham
Pad Man begins with Lakshmi Prasad (played by Akshay Kumar) getting married to his beloved wife (played by Radhika Apte) in one of the rural towns of Bangalore, India. First things first, they swapped the names. I was surprised because I thought they would retain the name at least so it would be easier for viewers to do research after they got home. But after actually conducting some research, I realized that the film was actually based on a short story The Sanitary Man of Sacred Land from Twinkle Khanna’s novel The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad.
Next up, we see how Lakshmi is so devoted to his wife. He is willing to do anything to ease her pain, and this is proven time and again – he makes a seat for her on his bicycle so that she isn’t uncomfortable; he converts a toy into a chopping machine, which cuts onions for her so that she doesn’t cry. Through each of these instances, we also see Lakshmi’s engineering skills. We become aware of how adept he is at creating machines and how his creative side unfolds when he is manipulating existing machines to his benefit. So, when he decides to create a sanitary pad for his wife, we aren’t completely shocked or surprised because the film was developing his character up till then and it seemed natural that he would help his wife, who was using a dirty rag as a pad during her periods. This part is true to Muruganantham’s story, as well, because he, too, begins to experiment with sanitary pads after he finds his wife using unhygienic practices during her menstrual cycle.
I wouldn’t use that cloth to clean my vehicle. When I asked her why, she said we would have to cut half of our milk budget to buy sanitary pads.
I went to the pharmacy to buy her the pads as a gift. The shop assistant wrapped it in newspaper like it was a smuggled item. It was only 10 grams of cotton, but cost 40 times its worth. I thought of how most women in rural areas couldn’t afford them. I wanted to change my wife from unhygienic to hygienic practices during menstruation.
As Laksmi creates pads with cotton, leaves, plastic, and fabric, he begins testing it on his wife. But the pads are faulty and weak, and his wife gets fed up and tells him to stay out of her business and not get involved in things that he shouldn’t. Of course, Muruganantham receives the same response from his wife. He even tries it on himself, using animal blood and a makeshift pump to mimic periods. However, his village soon finds out and he stops this. This part of the film accurately captures the struggles and hardships Muruganatham faces. Even though he is trying to do something good for women, he is unable to because menstruation is a taboo subject in India. It is such a sensitive topic to the point where he is ostracized by his own community and family. What is interesting is that even though the process is so natural, women themselves hate to discuss it, consequently continuing to propagate the misconceptions surrounding the topic.
Lakshmi doesn’t give up though. He distributes his products to girls in a local medical college, hoping to get feedback from them. Yet again, we see how even educated women fail to overcome societal pressures and taboos as they don’t give him feedback or even try his products. At this point, Lakshmi leaves his village to learn more about pads. He finally finds out that pads contain cellulose fiber and not cotton. This is one of his most crucial findings. He eventually builds a relic of an industrial size machine. This costs him about Rs. 90,000 and leaves him a stupendous debt. At this point, the film deviates from Muruganantham’s life. Lakshmi meets Pari (played by Sonam Kapoor), an educated and liberal student, who encourages him to submit his innovative machine in a competition conducted by IIT Madras. He wins the Grassroots Technological Innovations Award. From this, he obtains seed funding and founds Jayaashree Industries (in the film, Pari Industries), which markets these machines to rural women across India. Despite offers from several corporate entities to commercialize his venture, he refuses to sell out and continues to provide these machines to self-help groups (SHGs) run by women.
The film might have created Pari to include a love triangle and to spice up things, but I don’t think it was needed because the relationship was slightly superfluous and superficial.
The cast and crew of Pad Man created the Pad Man challenge, requesting celebrities to take photos with a pad to demystify menstruation and overcome taboos surrounding the subject.
Pad Man himself participated in this challenge!
Akshay Kumar’s Role
I think it was an excellent idea to cast Akshay Kumar in this film because he really stands up for social issues that matter to him. For instance, he starred in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, which shed light on the struggles of men and women not having toilets in rural areas. He is also very vocal about the rape culture in India.
This movie taught me the importance of keeping an open mind. It also made me more aware of how the rural areas of India can inculcate a myopic mindset. It also made me realize that I should be more grateful that I can afford a sanitary pad.
You can learn more about Arunachalam Muruganantham’s journey here:
Meet the real PadMan — Arunachalam Muruganantham