“I saw my wife Shanthi struggle through her periods without proper sanitary pads, and I wanted to help her,'' said Arunachalam Muruganantham, the original Pad Man, based on whose life and work R. Balki made the Akshay Kumar-starrer PadMan. “If you want to help people, start from home,'' he added.
Arunachalam was speaking on the sidelines of an event hosted by the ministry of women and child development (WCD), which followed up with a special screening of the film.
Balki and film producer Twinkle Khanna were present at the event. Arunachalam said he was initially reluctant to partner with Khanna in this endeavour. “I did not trust the cinema world. I felt they would make a masala movie instead of a menstruation movie,'' he said. After nine months of relentless pursuit, however, he relented. Now, he is very happy with the final product, which he says is extremely close to the real story of his life and work in popularising hygienic sanitary pads among women. “The story has been lightened up a bit. But the message is clear. It will give a huge boost to the movement.''
Khanna said when she heard about Arunachalam's work, she initially wanted to write a book on it. She had even started working on it when she realised that movies were a more powerful medium. “I first thought of making a small arthouse film. Later, I thought that with Akshay in the lead, half the work was already done. He has huge appeal among women.''
Balki said the need for hygienic sanitary products was so high in the country that even in a city like Mumbai, nearly half the women were not using sanitary pads. Arunachalam added that in rural areas, they would use sand, newspaper and even leaves on their private parts during their menstruating days, exposing themselves to huge health risks. The director said that he planned to actually remake it in several regional languages for greater outreach.
In response to a query about the 12 per cent GST on sanitary pads, WCD minister Maneka Gandhi said there were no plans of removing it. The tax was already lowered from 18 per cent. She pointed out that the market was largely controlled by multi-nationals. "But NGOs like Goonj [which make affordable sanitary pads for the poor] have lower turnover and are immediately out of GST's purview.'' She added that other smaller manufacturers who got into the business too would be out of the tax levy. There was no point subsidising the larger firms. The minister added that there were plans to come out with a consolidated policy on menstrual health and hygiene, with the WCD, health and HRD ministry teaming up with NITI Aayog. “There are several issues. Proper disposal of sanitary pads is one. Should we subsidise such machinery? Should we have a common policy for distributing pads in schools? At present, only some states do.''