By Subhash K. Jha
Film: “Period: End Of Sentence”, Oscar winning Netflix documentary; Director: Rayka Zehtabchi; Rating: ***
So we have finally won an Oscar. This short film with a big heart about a village some miles away from Delhi describes the efforts of the local women to educate, instill and install an awareness and accessibility to sanitary pads.
The villagers of Hapur are filmed in clusters of bewildered oblivion. This is the way the Western gaze invariably falls on rural India. They prefer to look at us not as a nation on the go, but country waiting to grow… underdeveloped, ignorant, clueless, reluctant to change… This film asks a bunch of teenaged boys about menstruation and pads. And they provide the enlightened Westerners a chance to giggle. When asked if they know what “period” is, the boys give answers that range from strange to deranged. Clearly, they have no mother or sister at home.
The film, though well-intended, seems to be in a hurry to make its point. It moves from one point of view to another, from one village commune to the next, without letting the pebbles in the stream settle down at the bottom. A bright enterprising girl named Sneha in the village who wants to become a police officer (“So I can resist marriage”) does emerge at the centre of the flustered narrative as she goes from door-to-door with a friend selling the idea of sanitary pads to reluctant women (“I am pregnant”) to actually the item itself.
I wish the film had focused on Sneha and her struggles instead of scampering in various directions to squeeze in the maximum viewpoint in the 26-minute narrative.
The film’s makers are rightly proud of the fact that their film captures rural India’s efforts to empower women with sanitary pads and menstrual knowledge. But this is certainly not a taboo subject, not in society at large, not in our films. R. Balki’s feature film “Pad Man” last year told the story of menstrual awareness with warmth and candour.
And in the short film space, do check out the Marathi film “Arrey Baba”, where a motherless girl gets into a dialogue about her first period with her empathetic father.
Yes, we do have a long way to go in empowering rural women. But we don’t need to look at the non-city belt as a region of amusing innocence.