Padman: A Bloody Good Movie?

On 9th February, India saw the release of Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar’s latest flick, Padman, a movie based on the true story of the man who tried to revolutionize the manufacturing and usage of sanitary napkins by making them cheaper and more accessible.

Since the movie’s first trailer was released, there has been a fair amount of discussion over the excessive emphasis the movie has placed on the sanitary pad and the menstrual cycle, two things that are still considered taboo in many parts of Indian society- even today, when you go to a pharmacy and buy some sanitary pads, the pads are rolled into a newspaper and/or placed in a black plastic bag and only then given to you.

However, the cast and crew members have stood by their work and believe it to be a necessary step in normalizing something that close to half of India’s population has dealt with at some point in their lives, but are yet not allowed to talk about.

The week before the movie’s release, social media feeds were flooded with the #PadManChallenge. The challenge was started by the real-life padman, Arunachalam Muruganantham, who posted a photo of himself holding a sanitary pad in his hand and asked for the cast of Padman to take up the challenge and further the normalization of the sanitary napkin.

Reel-life Padman, Akshay Kumar (Source: NDTV)


Taking up the challenge, all the tagged actors posted photos of themselves with a sanitary pad and the same gripping caption: ‘Yes, that’s a pad in my hand & there’s nothing to be ashamed about. It’s natural! Period’ and tagged other friends to take up the challenge.

The campaign’s successful encouragement of menstruation and menstrual hygiene discussions has gone viral all over Indian social media. After several celebrity endorsements of this challenge, a lot of fans and the public at large began to take up the challenge. People are praising this initiative as a way to dispel the taboo on periods, claiming that it makes people more comfortable with the idea of menstruation.

Actor Siddharth Malhotra (Source: Instagram)


My question is: Does it really?

While I do acknowledge that a lot of people – especially men – have taken part in this challenge, has this challenge managed to reach the people who really need to know about it? 

I am talking about the rural areas and conservative families all over India; incidentally, families like the ones that Arunachalam was surrounded by, families that ostracized him and shamed him for even trying to talk about menstruation. What are the chances that they will get the message of this challenge, a challenge fueled only by social media sites like Instagram and Twitter, which most of them may not even be aware of?

Actors Varun Dhawan and Anushka Sharma (Source: NDTV)


Ashoka students have varied responses to this question. Freshman Sumedha Samaga agrees with the stance that this challenge may not reach its target audiences: ‘The movie targets the non-urban amasses but the challenge is a social media one and most of the target audience is not familiar with that.’  While social media is the easiest and (for many) the most accessible platform to spread messages and opinions, this challenge seems to be leaving out the integral part of the Indian population who, in most people’s eyes, really need to understand this message.

First-year student Aashlesh Pai believes that the movie and its challenge ‘will start a conversation that should have started years ago.’ However, he is skeptical about whether or not this new trend will reach the required people: ‘One can only hope that in rural India, where straw, sand, and ash are used to stop blood flow during periods, some people will choose this film over the standard mindless flicks, and take something away.’

Aadya Singh from the Batch of ’20 has a very different opinion on this situation: ‘I think the movie/challenge do have a target population. Contrary to popular opinion, the stigma attached to pads and periods are very much prevalent in the developed and educated masses in India. I think celebrities carrying out this challenge have a huge following of such people and this message is definitely through to them’

Second-year student Arush Pande brings in another layer of complexity into this scenario: ‘Implicitly the movie does seem to be directed toward rural India, at least based on what the setting of the film suggests. But I wonder how far a film/challenge can go in rooting out years and years of internalization. It isn’t enough by itself and I don’t think a social media challenge is necessarily going to reach everyone. But it’s a start.’

Adding to this, he states, ‘I see why breaking the stigma regarding sanitary pads is important; I am, however, uncomfortable with this being a promotion strategy for a film. It’s sad that this wasn’t done before, independent of the film.’

The debate over this challenge’s medium and aim is highly complex. Whether or not the challenge is helping Indian society move towards normalizing menstruation and menstrual hygiene remains questionable; however, it is important to acknowledge that Bollywood has decided to wield its power over the masses and tackle an issue as pertinent as this.


Edited by Vasudha Malani

Images curated by Prakriti Sharma