5 reasons 'period film' Phullu should get anything but an Adult rating
A film that is devoted to the cause of spreading awareness about menstruation is playing at the theatres. Phullu, both the film and the protagonist (Sharib Hashmi), are so devoted to this cause that they would educate the audience at the cost of boring them. Which is laughably far from the objective of other 'A' rated films.
Abhishek Saxena's Phullu tutors the viewer about menstruation at the very pace the lead character learns about it – very slowly. This makes the film ideal for the only audience the CBFC has prohibited from watching it, i.e. kids.
Second, the film talks very specifically about the rejection of sanitary pads in rural India. As an awareness project, it's a strong contender for a tax-free film to be shown at all small town theatres. Instead, it's sitting on an 'A' rating that only serves to halve, or even quarter, its audience, screenings, and even TV slots in the future.
Never mind that periods mark puberty for girls, not adulthood.
If this irony wasn't enough, here are some topics discussed in the film that'll make you want to screenPhullu for your kids.
1. Pad or bomb?
As kids, all of us girls have wondered why our pads came wrapped in newspapers and then put in black poly-bags, used otherwise for trash or buying meat. Oddly, these were fresh pads, pulled down from shelves swiftly by a shopkeeper, expertly hidden and presented to the purchaser.
Often, the kind neighbourhood shopkeeper would also reserve a reassuring smile, as if he meant to say, “Don't worry, no one saw. Your secret is safe with me.”
Phullu discusses this odd phenomenon that obviously stems from our unwillingness as a society to make female sanitation visible. It is dirty, impure, and must be relegated to a black bag.
Sanitary pad brand Whisper had once cleverly shown this in an ad, where the black bag being carried by a woman nervously is mistaken for a bomb.
2. Misplaced priorities
In one sequence, Phullu (Hashmi), having recently acquired knowledge about menstruation and the need for proper sanitation, returns to his mom and sister with bags full of pads.
He spends money meant for jewellery to buy pads, and that does not go down well with the family. The women, upset, remind him that they have made do with cloth for generations, and that an infection is not a big deal.
This one scene highlights how Indian women (and in fact, women everywhere) have understood physical suffering as a normal part of life. A lot of moral value is also placed on the sacrificing nature of women, the more she is willing to play the martyr, the more she's worshipped.
As for the jewellery, that too is solely for momentary pleasure. For soon, his sister is to wed and then all of it becomes convenient dowry.
3. The problem of cost
A school-teacher in the film – the only woman aware about menstrual hygiene – acknowledges that while she can afford pads, most women in the village can't.
Phullu asks her why it's so expensive. While explaining how sanitary pads are still heavily taxed, she says that there are initiatives and subsidies that the government offers. However, these never make it to the village women, and middle-men reap the profits.
While the pro-government speech needs to be taken with a bagful of salt, the problem of cost with regard to hygienic menstrual sanitation options persists. The Goods & Services Bill (GST) continues to tax pads, as sindoor, bangles and bindis go tax-free.
4. Spread of diseases
Phullu's wife Begni (Jyotii Sethi) contracts a recurring infection in her groin area. The local vaid (apothecary) fails to diagnose the real problem of menstrual hygiene.
According to Congress MP Sushmita Dev's petition to the government to make pads tax-free, only 12% of Indian women use them. Her understanding is that the remaining 88% resort to cloth, sand, ashes due to lack of availability and cost.
As shown in the film, not using pads can result in Reproductive Tract Infection (RTI), and according to an AC Nielsen report, RTIs are 70% more common among women who fail to use sanitary products.
Begni too, suffers from RTI, but she'd rather call a midwife and suffer in silence, because that's culture.
5. Women against sanitation?
A curious thing that the film shows, which director Abhishek Saxena swears to be the case, is that women who have grown up using cloth refuse to make the switch.
When Phullu provides them with a cheaper alternative, the women who are otherwise quite fond of him, chase him and thrash him. His suggestion is an invasion of their privacy, a conversation about their privates (as they see it) is an insult to their very being.
Which, honestly, is completely understandable. For men to approach women with gyan about sanitation is a) all kinds of mansplaining, and b) it's intrusive. If men wish to bring in social changes with regard to women, it's only right they recruit women to carry the message forward.
Social rigidity is hard to get past. Religion is a great example of this reality. Besides, pads are not environmentally sustainable. Many make the mistake of burning them for disposal, so just handing them out without discussing alternatives/methods of disposal is not the best idea.
Phullu doesn't address the environmental aspects, and perhaps, given the conditions it is too soon to. But then again, if women must be pointed towards alternatives for cloth, mainstreaming environment-friendly and reusable menstrual cups and/or bio-degradable pads might get them to consider it.
Besides, menstrual cups are indeed the cheapest option out there. But one must acquire them online.