Menstruation has remained a taboo for ages in India and is still seen as something dirty or impure. It is even depressing to know that this discrimination against women persists in society. Women are often denied entry to religious events, the premises of shrines, and even their kitchens. In a society where women aren’t even allowed to talk openly about their periods in families, breaking this taboo has remained a huge challenge.
Directed by Iranian-American filmmaker Rayka Zehtabach, Period. End of Sentence. (2018) is a documentary based on the age-old taboos in India regarding menstruation. The film won Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject in 2019. This 25-minute documentary discusses the need to prioritise women’s healthcare and education, as well as the fight against the menstrual stigma that still exists in Indian rural areas.
The documentary opens with women, schoolgirls and even men asking about what periods is. The schoolgirls were reluctant to share their stories on camera when asked to express their views about menstruation. They said that they avoid discussing their periods in public because when they do, people become disgusted. Some of the women have also discussed problems they have had in the past and are still having. They even go to distant places to dispose of cloth at night. They even said that they felt ashamed when stray dogs sometimes brought such clothes back to the village. When some schoolboys were asked about menstruation, they said that it was a disease that affects all women.
Next, we see Sneha, a young police aspirant, who believes that getting an education and finding a job will help her avoid marriage and change her fate. The story then revolves around a group of women including Sneha, Rekha, Shabana, and many other women, who set up a sanitary napkin vending machine in Hapur Village, 60 km away from New Delhi. They have developed a low-cost method of making biodegradable sanitary pads for themselves and named their brand ‘FLY’. Women were reluctant to ask for sanitary pads in public, especially when they had to approach a man for them, so they went to houses instead. The reason behind this is that only men ran the stores in the village.
In the documentary, Arunachalam Muruganantham, the inventor of the low-cost sanitary pad-making machine and the inspiration behind the movie Padman, stated that menstruation is the biggest taboo in India. And it still is. The conversations show that people are unaware that sanitary pads are a product that is available on the market, and even when they are aware of the product due to television marketing, they are unaware of its use. The documentary also shed light on the heartbreaking stories of girls who had to quit school because there were no restrooms or sanitary pads available to them when they were teenagers.
The discussions with people showcase the reality that women in rural areas must deal with each month throughout their menstrual cycle.
The music and cinematography have given these women’s stories more depth.
The film has addressed the issue of just one village in India. However, it is not just a problem for one village. Period. End of Sentence. pays tribute to all women in every nook and corner of society. With small steps, one day, a woman’s education, dreams and freedom won’t be limited by a full stop- ‘period.’