A movie based on sanitary pads? You’ve got to be kidding right? This was my uneducated mindset going into the film Pad Man. I have never been so happy to be proved wrong.
Pad Man is a movie revolving around, yes, you guessed it, sanitary pads! It follows one man’s struggle to improve the abysmal conditions of menstrual hygiene among women in mostly rural India. ‘Lakshmi’ (played by the fantastic Akshay Kumar) finds his wife ‘Gayatri’ (played by the amazing Radhika Apte) using a dirty rag during her period. It’s all so hush-hush, she barely even speaks about it when he attempts to question her. The women of the family sleep outside during their period and continuously use some sort of rag so as to not soil their clothes.
Lakshmi buys a pack of pads for his wife fearing for her health, which when he gives to her, she does not accept because of the exorbitant pricing. When a man’s arm gets a deep cut at the workshop, Lakshmi immediately wraps a pad around his arm to keep the wound clean. Upon reaching the hospital, the doctor praises him for his quick thinking. He tells the other men that without the pad they might’ve had to amputate the arm. Lakshmi learns that women use dirty rags, leaves and even ashes during their menstrual cycles and because of these archaic practices women become fatally ill, invite diseases and to some even death.
It becomes his mission from this point onward to make affordable pads for his wife and women in general. But, saying it’s not easy would be an understatement. This is years and years ago we’re talking about, not to mention rural India. Periods were considered impure and taboo to an extent where even some men didn’t know of its existence! Gayatri refuses to use the pads once they soil her sari, so Lakshmi attempts to persuade his sisters, neighbors, even some college girls to use it to no avail. He finally tests a version of the pad on himself, which seems fine at first but turns into a disaster soon. People gossip and blame him, calling him a pervert and finally exile him from his village. Women refuse to talk about it, even though he tries so hard to help. The taboo behind periods leads to Gayatri telling him that she’d rather die of an illness than be the subject of shameful gossip.
Lakshmi leaves to another village and discovers an element that soaks up liquid without any leakage and stays dry. He procures a sample and a loan, finally building his first successfully functional pad-making machine. Pari, an educated city girl played by Sonam Kapoor is in desperate need of a pad one evening when all the drugstores in the village are closed and he gives it to her.
As the movie progresses we learn only 12% of the 500 million women in India used pads in those days. Making pads created employment opportunities for women in villages killing two birds with one stone. Slowly but surely Lakshmi’s invention started to actually help women across India.
In one of the most touching scenes in the Pad Man, when Pari calls his pad cheap, he responds saying that sure, its cheap, it just cost him his wife, mother, multiple sleepless nights and all his dignity.
I think Pad Man has had and will continue to have a ripple effect in educating and opening the minds of people in India. Periods are normal, it can be talked about without shame or fear of disrespect. The fact that Lakshmi even had to go through such a horrible struggle is a testament to the fact that we have so much further to go in bettering the state of our country and its people’s mindsets.