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18 February, 2018 11:28:58 AM

Over a wink and a song

It was, literally, a labour of love and Muruganantham was determined to make it happen
Kumkum Chadha
Over a wink and a song
Arunachalam Muruganantham, the real pad man

It took one man to solve a problem, women in India have faced for decades. It was a man who created an artificial bladder to demonstrate what women have silently suffered. He used goat blood to test his invention hoping that its success, if it happens, would end the hardship his wife and many women like her, in India undergo.
A school dropout from Coimbatore, Arunachalam  Muruganantham decided to challenge a 'taboo'. It started in 1998, when Muruganantham married Shanthi and  found that she  was using old rags and newspapers to deal with menstruation because she could not afford sanitary pads. Till then he did not even know that women often used things such as old rags, sand, leaves and even ash while they were on periods.
When he decided to make one at home for her, little had he imagined that he was embarking on a near impossible mission. The roll of cotton wool wrapped in a layer of cotton wool that he made did not work. It was rejected by his wife. She told him that she preferred the rag she has been using to what he had attempted.

But Muruganantham did not give up. He kept trying and each time would come up with an improved version but his wife and sisters refused to try out his inventions. In any case, even when Shanthi reluctantly did, Muruganantham had to wait for a whole month before he could test the improved version. He then tapped students but even while they tried his version of the sanitary pads they were not forthcoming with feedback.   The only way out, Muruganantham said to himself, was to self-test the product. So he used animal blood and went about with a sanitary pad to see whether it worked or not. Once word went around he became a subject of ridicule. Not the one to give up, he continued to work on it and finally not only did he manage to get the right material but also developed a machine to make low cost sanitary pads.

It was, literally, a labour of love and Muruganantham was determined to make it happen. Once he did, it was a kind of  a revolution in India. Today he is one of India’s most well-known social entrepreneurs running the sanitary napkins business. Apart from this creating jobs for women in rural India, he sells his machines to other states. He has over 2000 units across India including one in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

But it took Bollywood and a commercial film to make Muruganantham a household name at least outside his state and region. That the Time Magazine included him in the list of 100 Most Influential People in the World three years ago and he was awarded the Padma Shri by the Indian Government is another matter. But till Padman, the Hindi film starring Akshay Kumar and Sonam Kapoor, did not hit the screen, neither Muruganantham nor his work was discussed at length in households. Padman gave popularity to both Muruganantham and his invention. An instant success, the film raked in rupees 59 crores in the first week.

The film has triggered a debate in the country and now women are openly coming out endorsing sanitary napkins. It is no longer taboo to talk about menstruation or men endorsing sanitary napkins. In fact, there have been several talk shows and seminars around menstrual hygiene and celebrities like Manushi Chillar who was recently crowned Miss World are throwing their weight behind the cause.

This film is not the first of its kind in promoting social awareness. Earlier Toilet Ek Prem Katha, again an Akshay Kumar starrer, hit the screens and started a debate on the necessity of every home having a toilet instead of women and men going to the fields and defecating in the open.

That Bollywood has generated an awareness and made civil society an active participant in a social cause is a new trend but it is one that is much needed and long overdue.

 In stark contrast to Padman is another story, a different one,  playing out that has raised the hackles of clerics and fundamentalists in the Muslim community. But it has made it protagonist an overnight sensation.

Malayalam actress Priya Prakash Varrier is the “new national crush” with a clip of a film song going viral over the internet. Priya’s famous wink has sent young men swooning and girls envious of her given that she got over 4.3 million You Tube hits in one day. She is the first Indian celebrity to have registered 6,10,000 followers on Instagram on her very first day on the platform and is the most searched celebrity on Google search engine. Priya’s famous wink that melted a million hearts.

The video showed a  film clip from her upcoming debut film ‘Oru Adaar Love’. Her co-star in the film, Roshan Abdul Rahoof, has also grabbed eyeballs. He is the boy Priya winks at in the song.

In the viral number, Priya and Roshan  are seen doing a see-saw with their eyebrows before Varrier surprises him with a wink and a flirtatious smile. The virality of the song 'Manikya Malaraya Poovi' can be gauged from the response from the social media that has been generated.

18-year-old Priya is being tagged as new ‘expression queen’ and is all set to make her debut in the film that celebrates romance among school students. Her impish smile has stolen many hearts.

While young Indians are celebrating the clip, equally it has raised the hackles from certain sections on grounds that the lyrics of the song  makes derogatory references to the Prophet.  Some Muslim fundamentalists in Hyderabad have gone ahead and filed a police complaint saying this amounts to blasphemy.

Their   grouse is that the song is about Prophet Muhammed and his first wife Khadija. They have found the lyrics and the picturization of the song, offensive. The song has visuals of youngsters flirting with each other.

They have objected to the Mapilapattu and said that the song could have been avoided.

Mapilapattu or Mappila songs are Muslims folk songs popular in Kerala’s Mallapuram. While the lyrics are in Mappila dialect of Malayalam the songs generously use Persian, Arabic, Urdu and Tamil words.The Mappila songs are integral part of the Malabar.

Saner voices see the objections baseless because the song they say is among the popular Mappilla songs and had always been sung during weddings and in schools and there is nothing offensive about the song.

Pitch this against the recent controversy about Hindi film Padmavat and it fits in because the controversy that surrounded Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavat was unwarranted. There were protests and bitterly fought court battles and post its release the film drew huge crowds. It was an overnight success and sent its makers laughing to the bank.

A similar fate awaits ‘Oru Adaar Love’ which is likely to have a success run thanks to the controversy it has generated. While it could send the makers laughing to the bank like Bhansali, it is time to stand up and question protestors on the hullaballoo they create at the drop of a hat. If it is Padmavat and Oru…today, it could also be films like Padman and Toilet Ek Prem Katha on grounds of the social taboo that these subjects have, especially on subjects like menstruation. So where does one stop? Isn’t it time to stand up and check those who create a noise and hullaballoo over a wink and a song?

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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