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Vol. 16, No. 3, 2017
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Robert J. Lewis
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the pad man


As reported by the Times of India, where much of this article first appeared, Tamil Nadu born Mr. A. Muruganantham, otherwise known as the ‘pad man,’ or ‘menstrual man,’ was voted by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world for inventing the low-cost sanitary pad making machine, and for outing the taboo subject of hygiene and menstruation in India. His mini-machines are able to produce sanitary pads for less than a third of the cost of commercial pads, and are now widely available in India.

When he “discovered his wife collecting filthy rags and newspapers to use during her menstrual cycle . . . he started designing experimental pads. Initially, he made pads out of cotton, but these were rejected by his wife and sisters. Eventually, they stopped co-operating with him and refused to be the test subjects for his innovations. He looked for female volunteers who could test his inventions, but most were too shy to discuss their menstrual issues with him. He started testing it on himself, using a bladder with animal blood, but became the subject of ridicule when the ‘sanitary pad’ was discovered in his village. As menstruation is a taboo subject in India, it left him ostracized by his community and family (his wife left him for several years).” Wiki.


Stunning Indian actress Radhika Apte, who has often been under the scanner for her bold approach in her films, said anything remotely associated with human body can turn out to be a problem in India -- a country that is very ashamed of sexuality and physicality.

Sex and sexuality are not the only veiled topics of discussion in the country. Menstruation also finds a spot on the list, and Radhika is happy that the topic is being handled in a big way in her upcoming Bollywood film Pad Man -- which tells a true story of a man's journey to make affordable sanitary napkins.

Starting with the poster in the shape of a sanitary napkin, Radhika feels the film will help overcome the hesitation which surrounds a natural process that a woman goes through every month.

Despite the critical acclaim coming her way aplenty, Radhika has often been in news for being uninhibited in her films -- be it an intimate scene with co-star Adil Hussain in Parched being leaked online, or a clip of a semi-nude Radhika from an Anurag Kashyap-directed short film making its way on to the web.

The actress has never tried to sweep the matter under the rug, and believes in talking about it instead of opting for silence. "Yes, there is a whole thing of generations of being awkward about things, but if you start taking a decision like 'Okay, I am not going to feel like that', it will make a difference," she said.

The actress said a natural process like menstruation should be spoken about. "It should not feel awkward touching the pad in front of people. These are small things with which people have issues," she said.

According to Radhika, it is not only men who have issues talking about it. "Women also have issues about it. It is all a part of society and upbringing, and it is high time we changed it," she said.

Filmmaker R. Balki has picked the story of Arunachalam Muruganantham to narrate through Pad Man, with actors Akshay Kumar, Sonam Kapoor and Radhika in the lead roles. Pad Man will chronicle how Muruganantham set out on a mission to make affordable sanitary napkins after seeing his wife's ordeal and poor menstrual hygiene, and was shunned by his own family and village.

More than the end result of finally succeeding in making affordable sanitary napkins, it is the road that leads to it which makes for a compelling tale.

From creating a fake uterus to test out his prototype and raising eyebrows in the village for washing bloodied clothes in public, to being ostracized on the suspicion of having a sexual disease and being possessed by evil spirits -- there are many facets to Muruganantham's story.

Ask Radhika about how Pad Man’s story is getting a Bollywood makeover and she insists things are heading in the right direction.

"All I can I say is that as you know it is about a Pad Man who is holding a sanitary napkin on the poster. So there is a lot of scope for imagination. I am very happy that something like this is being handled at such a big level in Bollywood," said the thoroughly modern Radhika.


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