A short documentary about menstrual health, Period. End of Sentence, set in the remote Indian village of Kathikhera earned an Academy Award nomination on Tuesday, marking the only Indian connect at the Oscars this year.
Directed by award-winning filmmaker Rayka Zehtabchi, the documentary is based on social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham, who created low-cost sanitary pad making machine, and whose life was dramatically chronicled in the Akshay Kumar-starrer Pad Man.
The 26-minute film follows girls and women in Hapur, Uttar Pradesh, documenting their experience with the installation of Muruganantham’s pad machine in their village, and talks about how it changed their lives.
From Hapur to LA
The nominees for the 91st Academy Awards were announced on the website early on Tuesday amidst much anticipation. In contention for the Best Documentary (Short Subject), the website’s synopsis of the Zehtabchi’s film reads,
In the rural village of Hapur, outside of Delhi, India, women hope to make feminine hygiene supplies easily available and end the stigma surrounding menstruation, which often results in girls having to drop out of school. A machine that makes sanitary pads
isinstalled, and the woman operating it find financial security and independence.
The film crowdsourced most of its funds through a Kickstarter campaign launched by several high school girls and a teacher at Oakwood School in Los Angeles, and the non-profit group Girls Learn International.
“The whole project started because of Melissa Berton who is an English teacher at Oakwood School in Los Angeles. She rounded up her students — those six girls — after learning about this issue about women and girls dropping out of school worldwide because of menstruation. They decided that they wanted to purchase a machine that creates low-cost sanitary pads to install in a village in India where the taboo around menstruation is one of the worst in the world,” Zehtabchi told Deadline.
Berton said she learnt of Muruganantham’s invention six or seven years
“There is also a sense of agency because women using these machines are making money for the first time,” she said.
The man with a mission
Produced by Guneet Monga (best known for Gangs of Wasseypur – Part 1, The Lunchbox and Masaan), Period. End of Sentence depicts the socio-economic impact that “Tampon King” Arunachalam Muruganantham’s invention had in a village called Kathikhera, some 60 kilometres outside Delhi, located in the Hapur District.
Hailing from Coimbatore and now in his fifties, Muruganantham, back in 1998, was horrified to learn of the unhygienic alternatives rural women have to resort to during the onset of their menstrual cycle. Women, including his newly wed wife, were using torn rags, and even ash and sand as absorbents.
Thus began his journey to offer more affordable and safe sanitary napkins. “It all started because I wanted to create a good sanitary napkin for my wife [Shanthi Natrajan],” he told NPR, adding that some of his neighbours were convinced he had lost his mind.
His nine-year toil led him to develop a machine to create pads in 2006, during which he is famously remembered for demonstrating its efficacy by putting on a football bladder containing animal blood. The creative prototype eventually won him several awards including one at the National Innovation Foundation of India, and the Padma Shri in 2016. He also received seed funding to start constructing the machines on a larger scale. In 2014, he was included in Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people.
Presently, he is believed to be working on developing a low-cost global model based on his legendary “portable, semi-automated machine, powered by electricity, that can churn out two napkins a minute” for 2-3 cents each.
Why it matters
His invention is believed to have improve women’s health and dignity besides providing them with a means of employment, but women in rural India continue to struggle with the lack of sanitary supplies and access to basic sanitation. Menstruation taboos have become a national talking point, especially in the wake of protests after the Supreme Court lifted a century-old ban on women’s entry to Kerala’s Sabarimala Temple.
Now Muruganantham’s story has inspired another and is generating Oscar buzz. Ecstatic about making the shortlist, Monga told IANS over phone, “We made it … It is beyond everything we thought.”
The other nominees in this category are Black Sheep, a documentary by the Guardian about a Nigerian boy who moves to Britain; End Game, about caregivers at hospices in San Francisco; Lifeboat, which highlights the global refugee crisis; and A Night at the Garden about a 1939 event when 20,000 Americans filled Madison Square Garden to celebrate Nazism.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.