Pad Man fever well and truly took over the United Kingdom ahead of the worldwide release of the film on the 9th February. Britain was introduced to the most unconventional of Superheroes as the Indian bestselling female author, woman empowerment champion and film producer Twinkle Khanna took to prime-time television and the prestigious Oxford Union to discuss the need tackle period poverty and period taboos.
Pad Man is inspired by the story of one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential entrants Arunachalam Muruganantham, a rural welder from India with a unique, eccentrically mad edge who turned incredible inventor by providing women with access to high-quality and affordable sanitary pads 20 years ago.
Highlights of Twinkle’s whistle-stop visit to the UK included a meeting with Nobel Peace prize laureate Malala Yousafzai.
Popularly known to her readers as Mrs Funnybones, which also doubles up as the title of her first book and columns, Twinkle Khanna’s debut book Mrs Funnybones sold over 100,000 copies. This feat made her the highest-selling female author in India with her second book, The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad, landing at number two on Amazon India’s bestseller list. The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad featured a number of short tales, one of which was the story of a man who invented a machine to make low-cost sanitary pads. Recognising a fundamental need to have this story shared to a wider audience, Twinkle had turned producer to develop it for the big screen.
The result is her latest endeavour, Pad Man, a feature film on menstrual hygiene based on the life of social entrepreneur and activist Arunachalam Muruganantham, who revolutionised sanitary hygiene in rural India 20 years ago. Pad Man traces Arunachalam Muruganantham’s international journey from an outcast exiled from society for his endeavours to delve into such a taboo subject, to becoming a super-hero of India’s modern history, as he followed his dream to bring a menstrual hygiene revolution to India.
Twinkle’s visit to the UK got off to a glamorous start with a photo-call in a London hotel alongside leading Bollywood actress and star of Pad Man Sonam Kapoor. Media interest was high as photographers and journalists flocked to London to capture the pair, which was followed by several high profile interviews.
The focus later shifted to the world renowned Oxford Union as Twinkle prepared for her highly anticipated speech at the prestigious Oxford Union Society. Approaching its 200th anniversary, The Oxford Union has an unparalleled reputation for bringing international guests and speakers to Oxford, with the aim of promoting debate and discussion not just within the University, but across the world. Twinkle joined an esteemed list of former participants including US Presidents Reagan, Nixon, and Carter, as well as Sir Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein and Malala Yousafzai to name but a few. Twinkle’s appearance highlighted The Oxford Union’s fine tradition of hosting worldwide personalities from meaningful fields.
Marking the first time an Indian film has ever been showcased at the institution, the audience were presented with the official trailer of Pad Man before Twinkle took to the spotlight. The trailer generated a rapturous response of laughter when in the trailer lead actor Akshay Kumar remarked that if a man bled for the amount of time a women did as a result of menstruation, he would die.
Twinkle engaged the audience by explaining why the world needed to know about Pad Man’s story and the importance of spotlighting issues relating to menstrual hygiene.
“My primary motivation to make a movie on menstruation was to bring awareness to a subject that so far has been tucked away in shadows and much like Voldemort is never mentioned.”
Twinkle made the audience chuckle as she gave her solution to the prevalence of taxation on menstrual products around the world, stating “I think all women should just move to Canada: we get tax free tampons and blemish free Trudeau, and what more could any woman want?”
Twinkle described her hopes for the film, saying “With Pad Man, I am hoping it is more than a movie – it’s a movement: where women are no longer held back or embarrassed by their biology.”
Answering questions from The Oxford Union Vice President Sabriyah Saeed, Twinkle said: “One of the things I really wanted from this movie, which I think we are already on the way to achieving, is to make it a conversation starter. We want all members of the family to discuss this topic, including the men, even if it is merely to decide whether they should go and see Pad Man or not!”
Responding to questions about how the next generation can end the cycle of period taboo, Twinkle said “I think mothers and parents both have to lead by example…” Using her own experiences as a mother as a reference, she added “There should be no forbidden territory – you should be able to speak about anything.”
Twinkle also shared her views on the idea of making a film about a man solving problems for women. She pointed out that there are many women who solve issues, saying “There are a lot of women doing things for fellow women – but is anyone really listening to them?”. Twinkle recalled that it was Muruganantham’s conservative background that made the Pad Man story so unique, “Do men need to step up and solve women’s problems? I don’t think so – as you can see in what’s happening right now in the world, women seem to be giving men a sucker punch and pushing them down very well by themselves” she added.
When asked if the film’s profits would be going to charity, Twinkle said that a proportion of the revenue would, referring to an anecdote from the real Pad Man himself, “Muruganantham himself said something very smart about it. He had a conversation with Bill Gates, and he said: what you do is charity and what I do is social entrepreneurship. It’s the same thing as giving people fish or teaching them to fish. So what he does is he makes machines that help women earn a livelihood, and if our movie does not make any money, and if we give away all of our profits, then nobody will make a movie based on content again. And that would be a shame, wouldn’t it?” The answer received applause, highlighting the film’s commitment to Muruganantham’s ethos for creating lasting change.
The power of Twinkle’s message and that of Pad Man was clear during the course of the evening itself; when handed sanitary pads at the beginning of the evening, much of the audience, most notably the male members, balked at the idea. By the end of Twinkle’s speech and Q&A session, the audience were asked to raise sanitary pads aloft for a photo opportunity, to which nearly the entire audience duly obliged.
In the lead up to the speech, Twinkle met with Nobel Peace prize laureate Malala Yousafzai. Speaking at the meeting, Malala mentioned to Twinkle: “I’m really excited to see the film Pad Man, and am looking forward to seeing the trailer shortly because the message behind the film is truly inspiring.”
Twinkle took to the airwaves to spread Pad Man’s message across television, appearing on BBC News’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, ITV News, BBC News, Al Jazeera and Channel 4 News.
On BBC 2’s Victoria Derbyshire show Twinkle’s trademark wit and passion for the project shone through as she discussed the importance of issues around menstrual hygiene. Answering a question on the why menstrual products incur taxes worldwide, Twinkle said “There’s a GST tax of 12% in India and even that’s something I’ve been talking about repeatedly, because brooms don’t have tax, so apparently in India it’s more important to keep your house clean than your body – I don’t understand that.”
“But again I want to reiterate it’s not just India, there have been many states across America where Viagra is tax-free but tampons are taxed because policies are made by 65-year-old men with erectile dysfunction.”
UK viewers were impressed by the project and Twinkle’s passion for the subject. One viewer tweeted “Fantastic interview with @mrsfunnybones on #VictoriaLIVE can’t wait to see #padman. The fascinating story of determination and public awareness around issues women face.” Another tweeted “@mrsfunnybones is ace! Can’t wait to watch Pad Man!”
Both ITV and BBC devoted special attention within their news reports to the film, which aired during the highly watched midday and 6pm broadcasts, highlighting the urgency and global nature of period taboo and period poverty. In an interview on ITV News, Twinkle described the progress the film has already made, “One of the things that motivated me to make this movie, it’s already begun this conversation about menstruation.”
Twinkle also took part in an ITV News Facebook Live Q&A with host Nina Nannar, preceded only by UK Prime Minister Theresa May during last year’s general election campaign. The Q&A covered some of the taboos that exist around periods, deeply entrenched in cultures around the world, and how the film Pad Man hopes to tackle them. Twinkle said “To me the most important thing about Pad Man is the fact that in India, already the conversation has started. Something that people do not address, and it is not something I have heard men talking about, is suddenly talked about all the time and even if they are talking about whether or not to see Pad Man, they are addressing something they have not.”
Twinkle was joined on the Q&A by period campaigner Manjit Gill, founder of the charity Binti International, who have been raising similar issues in the UK. Twinkle visited Binti International following her TV appearances to learn more about their work, and saw first-hand their excitement for the release of film like Pad Man.
Channel 4 News also compiled a report on the film and an interview with Twinkle on their evening weekend broadcast. Speaking to Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman about the significance of a film like Pad Man for the fact that it deals with women’s issues traditionally seen as taboo, Twinkle said “We’re in a very interesting time in history, where for the first time you have women whose voices are being heard, strident women…it’s a very good time to be a woman.”
Twinkle’s mission to open up the topic of menstruation for discussion has been a success, and with the UK public now aware of Pad Man, excitement is growing for the film.
Dubbed ‘Superhero hai yeh Pagla’, Pad Man is the world’s first feature film on menstrual hygiene inspired by the story of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential entrants Arunachalam Muruganantham, a rural welder from India with a unique, eccentrically mad edge who turned incredible inventor by providing women with access to high-quality and affordable sanitary pads 20 years ago.
Produced by Mrs Funnybones Movies, SPE FIlms India, Kriarj Entertainment, Cape of Good Films and Hope Productions, Pad Man is written and directed by ad-man turned film-man R Balki (Paa). It is billed as the most progressive family entertainer yet, starring international megastar Akshay Kumar (Toilet: Ek Prem Katha) who assumes the titular role of Arunachalam Muruganantham to once again showcase his commitment to social entertainers. He is joined by critically acclaimed actresses Sonam Kapoor (Neerja) and Radhika Apte (Kabali).
One for the mad ones, the ones who are crazy enough to change the world, Pad Man is the one-of-a-kind feature film, tackling the taboo and stigmas attached to menstrual hygiene through the art of entertainment.
Pad Man releases in cinemas worldwide on the 9th February to inspire all the cape-less heroes amongst us, through SPE Films, India.