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PADMAN Interview: Twinkle Khanna

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Twinkle Khanna and Akshay Kumar.

Whilst his exterior may resemble that of a regular man, Arunachalam Muruganantham is the paradigm to the theory that not all heroes wear capes! Pad Man is a tribute to every ordinary and simple man and woman, who dare to dream and impact the lives of millions of others. Pad Man releases in cinemas worldwide on the 9th February 2018…. An interview exclusive with Twinkle Khanna, on the theme that has universal resonance- MENSTRUAL HYGIENE: ACCESS, TABOOS, RIGHTS & DIGNITY against the backdrop of PADMAN, by social issues commentator Richa Grover for Asian Lite News UK

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Twinkle Khanna and Akshay Kumar.

A superhero is a heroic character, who is dedicated to protecting their public and fighting evil and oppression at all costs, often single handily. However, contrary to popular folklore, not all superheroes wear capes and can sometimes be blended in with the public.

Here’s introducing the inspiring story of one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential entrants Arunachalam Muruganantham, a rural welder from India turned incredible innovator and inventor, who certainly wasn’t wearing a cape when he was moved to provide women with access to high-quality and affordable sanitary pads 20 years ago. His story has been fictionalised for its silver screen debut with Pad Man, the world’s first feature film on menstrual hygiene releasing in cinemas around the world on 26th January 2018.

Produced by Aruna BhatiaMrs Funnybones MoviesSony Pictures EntertainmentIndia, Kriarj Entertainment, Cape of Good Films and Hope ProductionsPad 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)

PADMAN movie poster.

The story of Arunachalam Muruganantham was first fictionalisedin the Founder of Mrs Funnybones Movies, Twinkle Khanna’s award-winning book of short-stories, The Legend of Lakshmi PrasadA renowned vocal women’s empowerment champion, interior design entrepreneur, best-selling author, newspaper columnist and producer, Twinkle Khanna then felt compelled to project Arunachalam Muruganantham’s story to a wider audience by co-producing Pad Man under her banner Mrs Funnybones Movies.

Pad Man traces Arunachalam Muruganantham’s international journey from an outcast exiled from society for his endeavours to delve into such a taboo subject in the Indian context, to becoming a super-hero of India’s modern history, as he followed his dream to bring a revolution to menstrual hygiene in India. Akin to the tagline of the film Superhero Hai Yeh Pagla (He’s a Crazy Superhero)PadMan is nothing short of an impulsive, flamboyant and driven entrepreneur extraordinaire, who refused to give up in the wake of scrutiny and ridicule, using his resilience and initiative to invent India’s low cost sanitary napkin making machine. An extreme enigma in his home town, Arunachalam Muruganantham’s super-heroic efforts led to a business that today employs hundreds of women across India

Actors Akshay Kumar, Twinkle Khanna, Radhika Apte and director R. Balki at the song launch of their upcoming film “Padman” in Mumbai.
(Photo: IANS)

Issues relating to menstrual hygiene are a global phenomenonWhether this is a result of the stigma and taboo resulting in the marginalisation and disempowerment of women in societies, the economic and social impact of “period poverty”, to the consequences on women’s health, there is a need to educate both men and women on the impact and to ensuring all women have menstrual dignity. Committed to the cause of women empowerment, Arunachalam Muruganantham faced the risk of isolation and marginalisation as he challenged the stigma and stereotypes associated with menstrual hygiene head-on in order to improve the lives of thousands of women. As is the case with many superheroes, it’s the element of social segregation that makes Arunachalam Muruganantham’s real life story so special. 

Asian Lite’s columnist Richa Grover caught up with Twinkle Khanna in an exclusive interview about Padman:

Richa – There’s so much anticipation and excitement around the release of the film, Padman. It’s all based on your book. When you were writing your book and researching it did you envisage that it will take the shape of a film or was it that you wrote the book with the idea of it being made into a movie?

Twinkle Khanna– I started writing on the subject of menstrual hygiene as a columnist in 2015 for TOI and it was during this time when I was delving deeper and researching more and more about it vigorously, that I stumbled upon Arunachalam Muruganantham’s story. It gripped me immediately. It was a remarkable tale of a man who decided to make a local sanitary napkin but having no recourse to anyone else to test his product and invention, his journey of how he decided to wear it himself and test it out much against social judgements on him for doing so. I thought that this was a special story, one that needed telling. I was writing my second book that time I recall vividly and then rang my editor and said that I had found the story for my next book! Then I began trying to connect with him, reading more about him and with great persuasion got him to agree to be the subject of my next book project. As I was writing the story I shared with a few people what I was writing on, it was then I felt that this would make a fabulous film on a subject that needed to permeate every household and it could be best done I felt through the medium of cinema. And that’s where the idea of making this groundbreaking film came about.
Twinkle Khanna
Richa– As menstruation and sanitary pads are still a near taboo topic of discussion openly in India how do you think the film will resonate with families who will go to watch this film together, do you think it will make some family audiences culturally awkward ?
Twinkle Khanna– in every strata of society there can be some taboos that can be found when it comes to menstruation. The stigma can cut across all sections of society even amongst the economically affluent and educated. There are many women who refrain from or are told to refrain from going into a temple for e.g. when they are on their period. There rules of purity and pollution when it comes to menstruation compounded with the stigma and awkwardness and hush hush response to it is intrinsically engrained in societies. But I feel that time to smash the stigma around menstruation has more than come and hence this timely film on this subject. When you go to see the film in theatres there is nothing in the movie that a child can’t watch or that you can’t watch with your grandmother. Also our intent was not to educate the educated lot. If we made people uncomfortable with too much detail they may have backed away. But having said that we are unapologetic that the film has sanitary pads in it and it’s about a biological fact that is menstruation. There’s no talking away or blinkering from that but we have also made it wholesome, entertaining and aside from the first three minutes which categorically sets the scene on the topic there isn’t a frame that will make families uncomfortable. It was strongly our intent that we make this film a piece of meaningful cinema and if a message is in a film that’s also entertaining we feel it’s better received and that’s what we have done with this film. We feel the artistic element of the film will grip audiences, hold their interest and make an emancipated point to take home with.
Richa– Did you have a target audience for this film? As you say you didn’t want to educate the educated, was the film made for a certain strata in society and were you wanting certain parts of India and the world to watch it more than others so as to address the elephant in the room I.e the issue of sanitary hygiene, access and taboos around menstruation.
Twinkle Khanna– school girls should watch this film across India and feel comfortable about accessing sanitary pads and prioritising sanitary hygiene and demanding that from families too and focus more on it than using resources for fairness creams, that’s what I’m hoping. I think this issue is not only in and about India, this is a global issue which cuts across borders. There are several charities in Africa that are working on fundraising so that they can provide sanitary products to school girls for free to prevent absences and drop outs. Even in Uk there are reports many girls are not able to afford sanitary napkins and would miss school on period days. So I want everyone to see the film and world over as it will resonate with many across strata and borders in different ways.
Actors Akshay Kumar and Twinkle Khanna at the song launch of the upcoming film “Padman” in Mumbai.
(Photo: IANS)
Richa– How has the film promos and buzz around it been received by NGOs, charities and pressure groups who work on this subject matter across towns and villages in India and in terms of advocacy has the film resonated with them too?
Twinkle Khanna– I believe so that is has impacted and resonated positively. There are a lot of organisations that are reaching out to us that they would like to tie up with us and do something beyond the film with us. That would be my aim too after the release. I would love to be able to raise funds to make  Muruganantham’s pads that are 90% bio-degradable to making it 100% bio degradable with no cost increase to customers as he is looking for more low income group family women to be able to be able to afford to buy these anyway. Also he sells his machines only to women cluster groups and NGOs so they can earn a livelihood and it is our aim to be able to raise funds so we can donate some of these machines to NGOs and women’s networks so many more can benefit, access gets better and the movement gets strengthened in India.
Richa– The film promises to be entertainment with a pertinent cause and many can’t wait for its release , do you have a message for your audiences in the UK?
Twinkle Khanna – Please do go and watch this film in theatres, by watching a movie like this you will be accessing and spreading more awareness, strengthening the narrative around menstruation and supporting a movement that aims to empower women not to feel ashamed of their own biology and raises the bar for the debate on rights to access sanitary products and how this can be made further possible in India.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-K9ujx8vO_A