The Menstrual Man
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because meeting basic human needs in places where they need to be met doesn’t get more compelling than this.
By Eugene S. Robinson
Life in Singapore seems to be wrapped pretty tightly. Canings and beatings for vandalism, gum-chewing laws and the death penalty for drug offenses speak to a society girding itself against the most human of foibles.
So when a Singaporean filmmaker, Amit Virmani, announced he wanted to make a documentary film about Arunachalam Muruganantham’s long journey to create a low-cost menstrual pad for women in India, we realized we’d have died to be in on that first pitch meeting.
But Virmani was a man possessed, not unlike Muruganantham himself who was even more so after spying his wife using a dirty rag for a “sanitary” pad. If there ever was a “there’s got to be a better way” moment, this was it.
Muruganantham’s journey, told over a tightly paced 63 minutes, follows this non-professional, illiterate man’s desire to improve on a standard that sorely needs improving. Especially given that only 1 in 10 menstruating Indian women use sanitary pads. The other nine make do with ash, the aforementioned rags, even sand. Again: sorely needs improving.
Virmani, however, sticks with Muruganantham through it all, and the film shows them working together toward a happy ending. An ending that sees Muruganantham realize that “after four and a half years of trial and error, I succeeded in re-engineering a multimillion-dollar production line into three to four smaller machines.” The simple process allows local communities to be self-reliant, with profits plowed back into the community the innovations serve. Which is its own kind of special genius. And the success goes on: More than 1,000 of his machines have been sold in India, and there’s interest in bringing them to Afghanistan and Rwanda.Throughout his quest, Muruganantham weathers the disdain of the community and allegations of lunacy and perversion. His wife even leaves him for a period of time. Unable to find any women to help him test prototypes, Muruganantham explains in his TED talk that he became the first man in the world to use a sanitary pad after rigging up a device that let him experience menstruation himself for five “lousy days.”
Menstrual Man was a departure for Virmani, whose last documentary, Cowboys in Paradise, was a stirring and occasionally sad look at young Indonesians who cater to female sex tourists. After meeting with a small measure of acclaim in its March debut, Menstrual Man got a shot at wider distribution, two noteworthy festival selection awards in April, and is proceeding through the festival circuit around the world through the end of the year.
Making it much more than clear that if this is not the ultimate date movie, it’s certainly in the running for “feel-good” flick of the year.
So says OZY.