Seldom will men discuss menstrual cycles,leave alone champion its cause. But for Coimbatore-based school dropout Arunachalam Muruganantham,it was the need of the hour. He has been credited for innovating low-cost sanitary napkins for women across rural India,and he became the subject of Amit Virmanis latest project titled Menstrual Man. I read about him in a tweet one day. The next day,I was in Coimbatore with him and one of the foreign publications had written an article on him. It went viral thereafter, says Singapore-based Virmani. Over the last two years,he followed Muruganantham as he set up the machines for producing these sanitary napkins.
He has been given the National Innovation Foundation award for grassroots engineering innovation in 2009 by then President Pratibha Patil. The 63-minute documentary has already been to the Hot Docs film festival,Toronto,Canada,in April,and premiered in India at the second edition of the Dharamshala International Film Festival on Friday. From being labelled an outcast and pervert by his wife who abandoned him,to single-handedly designing the machines,the film is about the man who made it his mission to make hygiene accessible to rural women.
Costing less than US $ 6,000 (approximately Rs 370,000),Murugananthams machines have been sold to over 23 rural districts. He began working on the project in 1998. By 2012 he had sold 643 machines, says Virmani,who shot the film through last year. The machines were sold to NGOs who were working with villagers in rural areas; besides villages across different states. The film shows a woman finding employment from this machine after leaving her abusive husband.
Virmani uses a mix of animations to talk about the ratio of women using sanitary napkins in India and Egyptian pyramids interspersed with graphics show Muruganantham at the bottom of the pyramid. It also has a funeral sequence from the Bollywood film Meri Jung (1985) when he says how his wife left him and society shunned him. Virmani justifies these inserts saying,Every documentary filmmaker uses B-rolls (supplementary footage) because you cannot just show talking heads. Muru talks about his achievements in a self-deprecating manner. The reason we have Bollywood is because it is an actual reference point for many Indians and it shapes the way we think. The film will have its European premiere at the International Documentary Film Festival in November.
Virmani initially attempted to use Rajasthani puppeteers for creating the graphics,but that failed. I realised that a lot of what Muru says is like an MBA lesson,so my brief to the animator was to create something that came out of a business textbook but would be simple enough like his machines. Hence,all the charts and the pyramids, says Virmani.
Known for making films on controversial subjects,Virmanis earlier documentary Cowboys in Paradise was on male prostitutes in Bali,and his current film has caused quite a stir because of its title. But he says,The biggest controversy is that nine out of 10 women in India still dont have access to menstrual hygiene. He is not the only one who is doing something like this. There may be many superheroes like him,but I made a film on the Iron Man,it may not be the Avengers.