MUMBAI, Feb 7, (Agencies): A Bollywood movie about an inventor who created a revolutionary machine that makes cheap sanitary pads hits screens this week, challenging taboos surrounding menstruation in socially conservative India.
Arunachalam Muruganantham is nicknamed India’s “menstrual man” for transforming the lives of poor women forced to use items like old rags, sand and leaves during their periods.
He has been lauded by India’s government and is now getting the star treatment with Bollywood A-lister Akshay Kumar portraying him in “Pad Man”, releasing on Friday.
It is the latest socially conscious movie to come out of a film industry known more for producing complex love stories featuring handsome heroes and elaborate dance routines.
Muruganantham hopes the movie will help raise awareness about the importance of menstrual hygiene in patriarchal India where women, particularly in rural areas, are frequently shunned during their monthly cycles.
“Menstruation is still a taboo subject in India and a tough subject for a film,” he told AFP by phone from his home state of Tamil Nadu in southern India.
“But I read the script and I was also on the sets to guide them. I think (R.) Balki (the writer and director) has handled the subject beautifully.
“People will talk about personal hygiene and it will give hope to the younger generation to do innovative things,” he added.
Muruganantham’s remarkable story began in the late 1990s when he was shocked to discover that his wife was using newspaper and dirty cloths during menstruation because sanitary pads were too expensive.
He decided to do something about it and started experimenting with different designs using cotton.
His first few prototypes were not very successful and quickly his wife and sisters refused to be guinea pigs any longer.
When other women in the village baulked at his requests to try his products he started testing them on himself, using a football bladder and animal blood.
Muruganantham was mocked and ostracised by fellow villagers, and his wife even left him for a while, but he remained undeterred and intensified his search.
After two years he discovered that sanitary pads are made from cellulose found on trees.
Muruganantham also learnt that the machine which ground down the pulp before turning it into napkins cost hundreds of thousands of dollars so he decided to create his own.
In four years he had invented an easy-to-use device which could produce pads at a third of the cost of the commercially produced ones. The machines themselves were also vastly cheaper at around 75,000 rupees ($1,170).
“I wanted to make sure that technically we did not go wrong, so he agreed to supervise,” Balki, the director, said of Muruganantham’s role on set.
Actresses Radhika Apte and Sonam Kapoor star alongside Kumar whose character based on Muruganantham is called Lakshmi.
The 50-year-old actor, whose films regularly rake in more than one billion rupees ($15.6 million) at the box office, is no stranger to starring in movies with an important message.
“Pad Man is possibly the riskiest film Akshay has done because of the taboo, unexplored subject,” he told AFP.
Several million more Indian women are now estimated to use sanitary pads thanks to Muruganantham.
NEW YORK: British soccer legend David Beckham put his star-power to use on Wednesday in a bid to reinvigorate the fight against malaria under the slogan “Malaria must die – so millions can live”.
The retired athlete joined ranks in a campaign by Malaria No More UK, a British charity, to star in a short film in which he is caged in a glass box and swarmed by mosquitoes.
The stunt is a reference to the way malaria is transmitted through the bite of the blood-sucking insects.
“These insects are annoying in places like the UK but in many parts of the world a mosquito bite is terrifying and deadly,” Beckham said in a statement.
Despite successes in recent years, malaria continues to kill about 445,000 people a year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
“This is totally unacceptable,” said Beckham, a member of Malaria No More UK’s leadership council and a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN children’s agency UNICEF.
The former England soccer captain, who retired from the game in 2013, remains a global celebrity. During his career he played as a midfielder for top clubs including Manchester United and Real Madrid.
The “Malaria must die” campaign is particularly focused on pressuring leaders of countries in the Commonwealth, a 52-member grouping including Britain and most of its former colonies, to adopt policies aimed at eliminating the disease.
The WHO last year warned that progress in the fight against malaria had stalled amid signs of flatlining funding and complacency that the disease was less of a threat.
In its most recent World Malaria Report, the WHO said malaria infected around 216 million people in 91 countries in 2016, an increase of 5 million cases over the previous year.
The vast majority of deaths were in children under the age of five in the poorest parts of sub-Saharan Africa.