Period. End of Sentence review: At its core, Oscar-winning documentary short is a celebration of women's agency
Period. End of Sentence undertakes the Herculean task of unmaking centuries of oppression, social conditioning, misinformantion and ignorance associated with menstruation.
Iranian-American filmmaker Rayka Zehtabchi has undertaken a Herculean task in her pursuit to make Period. End of Sentence. The Oscar-winning documentary short is burdened with the task of unfurling centuries of social conditioning, oppression, misinformation and ignorance associated with menstruation. Rayka is also saddled with the classic dual-edged sword that narratives of the marginalised often entail — the inevitable risk of presenting herself as an authoritative spokesperson of subaltern consciousness, in turn drowning out the voices of the subject that the film wishes to bring forth.
Period. End of Sentence comfortably straddles the two boats, by presenting a story of emancipation from the perspective of its subject, the women. Here, a group of women take upon themselves to find a solution to deal with periods, but not before they identify the problem.
Set in Hapur, a village in the fringes of Delhi, the film begins with a montage of clips, where men, women, and schoolgoing boys and girls are quizzed about periods. Whereas young girls struggle to stifle their giggles, too ashamed to look at the camera to even utter the word 'period' out loud, the village elders term it as "bad blood" that sullies women, a "disease" that should be silently wiped off with pieces of dirty, discarded rags. So deeply entrenched is the ignorance that a perplexed group of boys ask if this period is the same period bell that rings after the end of the class.
Soon after, a low-cost pad vending machine is installed in the village, and a group of women band together to operate the pad-machine. Inside a small brick hut tucked away in a corner of the hamlet, these women lead a quiet revolution, one pad at a time.
Period. End of Sentence not only aims at destigmatising the concept of periods, it also strives to give women agency. The women march forward with their handiwork, gallivanting door to door to demonstrate the products' superiority over mass-produced sanitary napkins. Their potential customers are hesitant; they have never heard of an object geared specifically towards their menstrual needs. As the camera pans towards their startled, uncertain, almost nervous eyes, one woman guiltily raises her feeble hand in order to voice her desire to buy a packet of pads. Emboldened by her act, one by one every woman in the crowd raises her arm, broad smile creasing her leathery skin.
Even as the embarrassed men feign ignorance, calling it "Huggies" and "children's diapers", the women proudly promote their 'Fly' pads. By providing them with an employment opportunity, the endeavour also gives them a sense of identity. "When my brother came to visit me, I bought him a suit. Usually it's the brother who buys gifts for his sister, but today a sister will gift her brother," a woman proclaims, evidently aware of her newfound autonomy. Almost acting as an omniscient narrative voice, the principal of the village school underscores how women form the basis of society, but are often unaware of their own potential.
The effectiveness of Period. End of Sentence lies in its ability to pack in its 25-minute runtime the three-part narrative structure. Not only is the film a rumination on the social issues and taboos existing in the hinterlands, it also presents to us a solution to the problem. With more men helping out their female counterparts at the factory, no longer shying away from participating in the project, Period. End of Sentence ends on a hopeful note.
At the core of it, Period. End of Sentence is a homage to womankind. Perhaps, with baby steps towards the right direction, period would only be used to end a sentence, and not to put a full stop to a woman's ambitions, education and liberty.
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