Rags to Pads, a film by Chithra Jeyaram, is in the fray for an audience prize at the Focus Forward Filmmaker Competition

A. Muruganantham, the man who changed the lives of thousands of rural women in the country with his low-cost sanitary towels, is the subject of a documentary, Rags to Pads. Directed, produced, filmed and edited by Chithra Jeyaram, the three-minute film has music by Raghav Mahalingam.

The film went up to the semi-finals and is now in contention for the audience prize at the Focus Forward Filmmaker Competition. Focus Forward films highlight people and world-changing ideas that impact the course of human development.

Chithra, who grew up in Chennai, lives in the U.S. She made Rags to Pads with development funding from CBA Your World View. This came her way after her film Mijo won at Watersprite, the Cambridge International Student Film Festival.

The grant allowed her to make a short film about developmental issues anywhere in the world. “I chose to tell a story of female hygiene from India,” says Chithra, who holds an MFA in Film Production from University of Texas, Austin.

What impressed Chithra most about Muruganantham’s innovation was that it empowered women to change their lives. “He was not selling the towels, but selling the women a livelihood even as he helped increase hygiene.”

She visited Chennimalaipalayam, near Tirupur, where S.V. Kalyani, V. Manguthai, C. Uma Maheshwari, V. Deepa, Manimekalai and Indumathy L.S. run the Mother Care Napkin Factory. She followed Indumathy as she went out to nearby villages to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene, explained the need for sanitary towels and also marketed her product. “She taught them a in a way that was acceptable to them,” Chithra recalls.

Grassroots approach

During the two days of filming, Chithra realised the need for a grassroots approach. And, also figured why the Muruganantham model was successful — it had turned into a people’s movement, but also provided its participants an economic incentive.

Muruganantham is also a part of the documentary. “I wanted to narrate the story from the beneficiaries’ point of view. I felt the women were the main story; he was the catalyst. But, I wanted him in the frame to show it is macho to be sensitive to a woman’s needs,” she says, in a phone interview.

With this film and her next, Period, which explores menstrual hygiene from a public health and infrastructure perspective, she hopes to trigger a change and break this vicious cycle.

She recalls, “My grandmother did not have a toilet at home in her village of Chatrapatti until her last days! If we can motivate this generation to come forward to fund groups that can buy these machines, imagine the change that will come about,” says Chithra.

A film will be named ‘Audience favourite’ at Focus Forward if it is among the top 10 in terms of votes.

You can watch Rags to Pads online and vote at https://vimeo.com/51889563