Padman Challenge: Going beyond good intention is as important as starting a viral social media campaign around menstruation

Karishma Upadhyay

Feb,09 2018 15:59:16 IST

If you have spent any time on social media in the last week or so, chances are that you’ve seen some of Bollywood’s best-known faces holding a sanitary napkin. They are taking part in the #PadManChallenge, in a run up to the release of R Balki’s Padman. The film is based on the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham, the man behind the world’s first low-cost machine for making sanitary towels.

Also read: The Padman Challenge: Beyond Akshay Kumar's successful crusade, a lowdown on similar social media campaigns

The campaign was kicked off by the film’s cast, Akshay Kumar, Sonam Kapoor and Radhika Apte who have been joined by the likes of Aamir Khan, Deepika Padukone, Anil Kapoor and Katrina Kaif in recent days. Now, not just celebrities, but fans have joined the viral campaign and are posting photos on social media.

This is a country, where, at the point of sale, a packet of pads is first wrapped in a newspaper and then shoved into a black plastic; seeing an open pad in the hands of your biggest screen idols is a big step towards normalising menstruation. In a society where men are horrified and embarrassed at the mention of periods, seeing Anil Kapoor and Rajkumar Rao, in a skit, talking about men buying pads for their women goes a long way.

Bollywood celebrities taking the Padman Challenge.

What the film and #PadManChallenge has done to a large extent is break the silence. And, for that they need to be lauded.

There are, though, some detractors who are questioning the campaign and its actual impact.

How is this campaign any different from Amitabh Bachchan’s letter to his granddaughter about female empowerment before the release of Pink, a film about female empowerment? Are people taking pictures because ‘everyone is doing it’ or has this really changed their views on menstruation? Will these celebrities continue to lead the conversation around menstrual taboo and hygiene months and years after the film’s release?

More than a decade ago, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge started as a social media campaign to raise awareness and, more importantly, money for research. The campaign was wildly successful with 17Mn people participating, but more importantly, helping to raise $115Mn.

In January this year, women in Hollywood launched the Times Up foundation, which is seen as the next step to the #MeToo movement. Supported by stars like Natalie Portman and Emma Stone, the initiative encouraged actresses to wear black on the Golden Globe red carpet and musicians carried white rose on the Grammy red carpet. But behind these symbolic movies, Times Up has a legal defense fund of $20 million in donations to help women from across the world to report sexual harassment or assault.

There is no doubting the good intentions of the #PadManChallenge campaign and what it’s done for awareness, but sometimes, just awareness isn’t enough.

Ask any brand who decides to embark on a journey of “cause marketing” – it’s a slippery slope when you don’t have any real world impact to show. The most common accusations would revolve around misappropriation of an issue and using it for self-promotion.

Why then, should it be any different for a film that stands to benefit from a campaign like this?

Akshay Kumar in a still from Padman. YouTube

Akshay Kumar in a still from Padman. YouTube

Could the producers have gone that extra step and made a real difference? Could they have tapped into corporate India to contribute to the cause? Would it have been amiss to expect someone to sponsor one needy girl’s supply for a month every time a person posted a picture as part of the challenge? I guess we’ll never know but the absence of any meaningful action behind this campaign does feel like a missed opportunity.

Also read: Padman movie review: Akshay Kumar is charming in an entertaining but problematic film

Updated Date: Feb 09, 2018 15:59 PM