Padman Challenge hits Twitter: social change or publicity gimmick?

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So Padman hit the theatres today! The film is a brave attempt by Mr. R Balki to bring to the center stage a subject that remains taboo even in today's era, Menstruation. Not just rural India, even urban India faces the social stigma associated with the subject of menstruation. And thus, the movie has taken a huge step forward in this direction of normalizing Indians with the topic of Menstruation and the need of cost-effective sanitary napkins for women. The movie is being widely promoted on social media by Bollywood stars. If you are someone who uses any form of social media, you must have come across the Padman Challenge.

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Started by the actor in the lead role, Mr. Akshay Kumar, the Padman Challenge is grabbing eyeballs quickly. He posted a picture on Twitter with a sanitary napkin in his hand with the caption: "Yes, that's a Pad in my hand and there's nothing to be ashamed about...It's natural! Period." He further tagged Deepika Padukone, Virat Kohli, and Alia Bhatt to take the Padman Challenge. This series of posting pictures and tagging celebrities has been spreading on Twitter and Instagram and seems to be breaking barriers in the minds of the audience. But is it?

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Does the Padman Challenge encourage social change or is merely a publicity gimmick?

While the idea seems of holding the sanitary napkin is bold and noteworthy, it reeks of promotional strategy more than a noble cause. Why?

For starters, the reach of the campaign is limited. It is the mindset of rural Indians that needs more changing. But the Padman Challenge can be brought into the view of only educated, tech-savvy, urban Indians who use social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram. This defeats the entire purpose of the campaign.

Secondly, the film is based on the true story of Arunachalam Muruganantham. A rural man from Coimbatore who was pained to see that his wife could not take proper care of herself while menstruating due to unavailability of affordable sanitary napkins. The man took it upon himself. And he succeeded in making a cost-effective machine that produces low-cost and hygienic sanitary napkins that can be afforded by rural and poor women. The Padman Challenge clearly does not promote usage of cost-friendly sanitary napkins. The price and brand of the napkins being used by celebrities is not something poor women can afford.

Third, the timing. Why all this awareness flooding in right before the release of the movie? Does empowerment really come from holding up a sanitary pad and clicking the picture? Does the Padman Challenge provide any actual information? These are some questions to ponder upon.

Lastly, this campaign comes across as insincere and gives undue credit to Bollywood biggies. While there are hundreds of activists who have toiled hard to spread awareness, to break myths in people's minds, but they have not been given any visibility.  Moreover, what will happen when the movie is not in the theatres anymore? Will the buzz remain or fizzle out? This is not an issue that can be dealt with within a span of a few days and a few pictures. It needs constant time, effort and involvement. The Padman Challenge has been instrumental in marketing the movie. But its effect in bringing real change can be tested only with time.

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