Rayka Zehtabchi’s Oscar-nominated documentary Period. End of Sentence begins with giggles and blushes. Women of varying ages are questioned on a topic that elicits responses that range from amusement to shame or stunned silence – they are asked about their menstrual cycle.
Period. End of Sentence, co-produced by Indian producer Guneet Monga, is competing in the Documentary (Short Subject) category at the Oscars, which will be held on February 24 in the United States (Indians can catch the awards 6.30 am onwards on Monday on Star Movies, Star Movies Select HD and the streaming platform Hotstar). The film can be viewed on Netflix.
Set in a village in the Hapur district near Delhi, the 25-minute documentary examines the stigma around periods in India. The superficial manifestation of the taboo is the coyness that marks the film’s opening scenes, but its deeper impact is on women’s health, hygiene and life decisions.
When a low-cost sanitary napkin manufacturing machine is installed in their neighbourhood, a group of women take up the charge of operating the device, distributing pads and creating awareness about menstrual hygiene. The machine is the invention of Arunachalam Muruganantham, the entrepreneur who inspired the 2018 Akshay Kumar-starrer Pad Man, and has been installed in the village courtesy The Pad Project, a California-based non-profit.
Viewers are also introduced to the aspirations and ideas of the women. One woman wants to join the police force so that she is not married off by her parents. Another makes astute observations about the long road ahead to change patriarchal mindsets. The camera follows these women as they go from door-to-door to demonstrate and sell these napkins. “Come here, I won’t bite,” one woman says to a man who refuses to come to the door on seeing the packet of sanitary napkins in her hands.
The pads are packaged and sold under the brand name “Fly”, an apt metaphor for the transcendent effect the documentary hopes they will have on women.