Oscars 2019: Guneet Monga on executive producing Period. End of Sentence, winner of Best Short Documentary

12 students of Oakwood School, California serve as executive producers, along with Guneet Monga on Period. End of Sentence, that has won big at Oscars 2019.

Udita Jhunjhunwala February 25, 2019 08:41:49 IST
Oscars 2019: Guneet Monga on executive producing Period. End of Sentence, winner of Best Short Documentary

A documentary from India, Period. End of Sentence, has won the Best Documentary (Short) at Oscars 2019. Below is an interaction with Guneet Monga, owner of Sikhya Entertainment, who co-produced this trailblazing documentary on the issue of menstrual taboos.

“A period should end a sentence, not a girl’s education.”

This strong statement is the driving force behind a short documentary titled Period. End of Sentence, that has bagged an Oscar in the Best Documentary (Short) category this year.

Oscars 2019 Guneet Monga on executive producing Period End of Sentence winner of Best Short Documentary

A still from Period. End of Sentence.

The motivation to make this 25-minute film came from 12 students of Oakwood School, California and their English teacher Melissa Berton. The students also serve as executive producers along with Guneet Monga and her company Sikhya Entertainment.

Director Rayka Zehtabchi efficiently uses the short format to introduce us to the young women, older women and some men in this village. She shows us how deep-rooted the stigma around menstruation is and how it can stunt a woman’s education in an ignorant, patriarchal society.

The film begins with sound bytes from teenage boys and girls in Hapur, a village outside Delhi.

“Like a class period? The kind you’d ring a bell for?” asks a boy.

When asked if he knows what a period is, the teenager responds, “It’s a kind of illness, right?”

When a low-cost pad-making machine — as pioneered by Arunachalam Muruganantham — is installed in the village things begin to change for Sneha, Rekha and other girls. The local women are employed to produce and sell pads. Not only does this open up an additional income stream for the women, but it also helps bridge a chasm and open up discussion with the men as well. Freeing themselves from the practical issues surrounding menstruation, these women gradually become independent.

On the genesis of this delicately handled and impactful short Monga said, “A group of 12-14 year old girls in Oakwood School read an article about villages in India where girl don’t go to school because of menstruation, the lack of proper hygiene and the shame attached. They contacted NGOs such as Action India and then figured they could donate a sanitary napkin-making machine (not unlike the one seen in Akshay Kumar’s Pad Man). Through various initiatives they raised enough resources to buy one machine.”

Realising that this was not enough, and encouraged by their teacher, the students set up a Kickstarter fund-raising campaign to make a short film to expand the conversation. Once they had raised the funds, they approached filmmaker Zehtabchi.

On her involvement, Monga said, “One of the parents of one the girls was known to me and she asked me to help them shoot in India.” Monga and her company Sikhya coordinated production in India.

The voiceover you hear is Monga’s colleague Mandakini Kakar, who contacted the girls, made them comfortable and interviewed them. Translating from English to Hindi and back again and getting the girls to talk freely were some of the challenges the team faced.

When asked what it was about the film that appealed to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences that hosts the Oscars, Monga said, “The spirit of the film, the spirit of the girls creating a mini revolution in Hapur, the way the film was made — all these things. It is such a special film.”

An Oscar win aside, Monga credits the zeal of the students. “I love their spirit and love that they pulled it off.”

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