An heroic and independent entrepreneur creates a low-cost sanitary pad for the world’s poor, but must overcome cultural shame associated with menstruation to get his invention accepted. Based on a true story. [ Pad Man credits: Dir: R. Balki/ Akshay Kumar, Radhika Apte, Sonam Kapoor/ 140 min/ Biography, Comedy, Drama/ Creator-as-Hero, Individualism/ India/ 2018/ aka Padman ]
According to the Times of India, sixty-two percent of young women in India do not use sanitary pads to deal with periods. So what do they use instead? The same thing women throughout much of the impoverished world use, and indeed what women in the pre-Industrial West once used – a rag. The result is that in India menstruation-related infections, sometimes leading to infertility and even death, are not uncommon. But all that is changing, thanks to inventor/entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham. His story is told with warmth and enthusiasm in Pad Man.
When Muruganantham first discovered that his wife was using rags and newspapers during menstruation, he wanted to buy pads for her, but the cost was prohibitive. So, he decided to invent a cheaper alternative. The bulk of the film is about his struggle, not only to understand and lower the cost of pad manufacturing, but to find willing test subjects. In the film, you see him turned down repeatedly by women ashamed to even speak of such things, finally testing his pads on himself by creating a plastic bladder filled with animal blood. When that device ends up bursting in public, covering his legs in blood, he is subjected to public ridicule and ostracized from his family and village as a probable pervert. I thought all that was made up for dramatic effect, but the events are true.
Muruganantham persevered, alone and ridiculed for years, steadily improving his pad-making machine. He finally managed to get it into a national innovation conference, where it won the top award and venture capital funding. The machines are now used in villages throughout India.
This is a wonderful story of entrepreneurial determination and has many pro-capitalism touches. It turns away from that a little toward the end, as Muruganantham declines lucrative licensing offers over suspicions about big money interests, preferring instead to distribute the machines on a smaller local scale, but given India’s history of regulatory corruption some doubt about the intentions of powerful companies might well be in order.
Pad Man is also a love story, and a story about overcoming shame, and a sweet, colorful film. It’s an engaging window into Indian life, not only what it is today, but how it is evolving in the context of India’s burgeoning capitalist economy. Some say praise for Muruganantham in this film goes over the top, but that an enthusiastic tribute was made about an entrepreneur at all – I haven’t seen one lately from US film studios – says something very good about India.
“Quite the entertaining, daresay absorbing, movie.”
–Los Angeles Times
“An empowering film that gives you the wings, despite the odds.”
–Times of India