Tears of joy well up in his eyes as he witnesses the terrific Akshay Kumar enact his life story on the silver screen. “It was like my whole life, all its struggles and strife, all the grief and joy, flashing in front of me. I couldn’t have hoped for a better film on my life and struggle than this,” says Arunachalam Muruganantham after watching his own biopic PadMan.
A school dropout from a poverty-stricken family in Tamil Nadu’s Coimbatore is an unlikely social crusader tackling one of India’s most menacing health crisis — menstrual hygiene. But Arunachalam Muruganantham is nothing less than an anomaly. While most men squirm at the mention of menstruation or sanitary napkins, Muruganantham just couldn’t bear to see his wife use a dirty rag for her periods. And today, here he is, helping millions of Indian rural women afford low-cost sanitary napkins.
He was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2014, tagged as India’s “menstruation man,” inspired a documentary and emerged as one of the most sought-after speakers at the world’s premiere Business schools. His story has now also been etched in the halls of fiction by popular faces of the creative world — first in Twinkle Khanna’s book The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad and on February 9 with the release of Akshay Kumar’s film PadMan.
Devoting 20 years of your life for a mission like this is no easy task. But in his TED talk from 2012 titled How I Started A Sanitary Revolution, it is not difficult to notice Murugananthan’s go-getter attitude. He does not hesitate in the slightest to accept that his journey towards making the world’s first low-cost sanitary pad making machine got rolling only because of the whims of a newly married man to impress his wife, of course.
He goes on to tell that how he found his wife hiding a dirty rag cloth that Murugananthan wouldn’t even use to clean his scooter. And how his pestering curiousity was handed the retort, “It’s none of your business!,” almost like a slap on his face. He soon realised that the dirty rag is his wife’s substitute for a sanitary napkin and how his income doesn’t permit his family to afford sanitary napkins for the women of the house. He also shared how at the age of 29, he touched a sanitary pad for the first time and started researching if the product is really worth the money the foreign companies are charging from the people. The results of his research are well known to us now.
This inspiring story of an unlettered man who started a sanitary revolutionary in our country has been narrated by Muruganantham a number of times now, at various universities as well. But the one thing that you can’t fail to notice in almost all his lectures is his extraordinary sense of humour which is self-deprecating at almost all times. While he makes sure he cracks his audience up by saying things like, “The only available victim (to test the sanitary napkin sample) was my wife” or taking digs on the arranged marriage setup in India, Murugantham is self-aware. He knows what a mighty feat it is for a man like him to eradicate one of India’s biggest problems. While signing off, he shares how he believes that people are of three kinds — uneducated, little educated and surplus educated and says , “If a little educated man has done this, what will the surplus educated men do for the society?”
But it is pretty obvious that Murugananthan uses his infectious sense of humour to leave the audience with a very powerful social message. He also remarks how he had the opportunity to sell his invention off to the industry bigwigs for billions of money. But instead, he chose to sell his machine only to underprivileged women of rural India, providing village after village not only a low-cost sanitary pad manufacturing set-up but a consistent source of livelihood for its women.
While the audience remains divided on whether PadMan does justice to the story of India’s menstrual man Arunachalam Muruganantham, there is no doubting the fact that his story is one that needs to be told. Bankrolled by Twinkle Khanna, PadMan stars Akshay Kumar in the role of A Muruganantham and has been helmed by R Balki. PadMan hit the theaters on February 9.