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  Entertainment   Bollywood  25 Feb 2019  India-based documentary on menstruation wins an Oscar

India-based documentary on menstruation wins an Oscar

THE ASIAN AGE. | UMA RAMASUBRAMANIAN
Published : Feb 26, 2019, 12:00 am IST
Updated : Feb 26, 2019, 4:51 am IST

A 25-minute documentary set in the rural district of Hapur in Uttar Pradesh wins an Oscar at the 91st Academy Awards.

Rayka Zehtabchi and cameramen San Davis during the making of the documentary.
 Rayka Zehtabchi and cameramen San Davis during the making of the documentary.

A documentary that tackles the stigma around menstruation in rural India, has won the Best Documentary Short at the 91st Academy Awards. The short, directed by Iranian-American filmmaker Rayka Zehtabchi, captures a quiet revolution spearheaded by women in a rural village of Hapur in Uttar Pradesh. In her acceptance speech, Rayka said: “I’m not crying because I’m on my period or anything. I can’t believe a film on menstruation won an Oscar.”

Ecstatic from her Oscar win, co-producer Guneet Monga says, “We were all crazily screaming when we won because we all were so excited. Oscar is the highest form of validation in our business and to get that validation gives you a different high. It makes us feel extremely proud. It is truly the best thing to happen to any film. With a validation of our work, we are only encouraged to push barriers. Yes, it’s a revolution and I feel blessed to witness this revolution.” The film has been produced by Guneet’s Sikhya Entertainment and also been crowdfunded by students from Los Angeles, along with their teacher Melissa Berton. The entire project began with a group of young high school girls and their English teacher after they learned that women are being shamed for their periods all over the world and that some of them are even forced to drop out of school because of it. With the help of bake sales, yoga-thons, crowdfunding campaigns, and a partnership with a Delhi-based NGO, the students finally managed to purchase and install the machine and also produce the documentary.

 A still from the documentaryA still from the documentary

The documentary highlights the taboo around menstruation in rural India and the hesitation in talking about it, which made young women and girls face severe health issues and even drop out of school. The catalyst for the revolution in Hapur came from the real ‘Pad Man’ Arunachalam Muruganantham’s low-cost pad machine. The bashful women of the village go on to take their menstrual health and hygiene seriously and even use the machine to birth their own business of manufacturing and marketing ‘Fly’, a home-grown brand of sanitary napkins that hopes to ‘help women soar’. “This has been more than 10 years of work of Action India run by Gauri Chaudhary on educating reproductive rights on the ground in many villages. Feminist Majority Movement and Girls learn International have been pushing this cause in the US. Every girl in India or anywhere around the world needs to know this and hear this loud and clear. Period is an end of a sentence but not a girl’s education,” says Guneet. Before the ceremony, the Iranian-American director Rayka had said, “We wanted to make this film to spread awareness. Now we have the opportunity to share our message on the biggest stage in the world.”

Guneet Monga holding the Oscar trophyGuneet Monga holding the Oscar trophy

Guneet, who has earlier bet her money on several films and documentaries including The Lunchbox, Gangs of Wasseypur, Masaan, Tigers, and Haraamkhor among others, believed in the subject and was very clear that it is going to change the world. “When I read the script, I knew we were set out to change the world and I am not kidding. Now, with the Oscars, we are actually changing the world. What more I could have asked for?”

The film, released recently on Netflix, has also won at many film festivals around the world. “Each one of us needs to put another woman forward. That’s my mission. As an independent producer, it has been hard for me but I want to be there for others.  I’m numb. I’ve lost my voice. This is what one always wanted and I’m so glad the universe and God chose this film because it’s so important,” she signs off.

Meanwhile, actress Olivia Colman who just bagged her very first Oscar for the critically acclaimed movie The Favourite reportedly has her roots in India. In 2018, on a British documentary series Who Do You Think You Are?, it was revealed that her great-great-great grandmother Harriot was born in Bihar’s Kishanganj in 1807. On the show, Colman travelled to Bihar via the North Eastern states of India to visit Kishanganj. “It’s a very mystery at the moment. The thought that my family has lived here is amazing,” she says in the 2018 video. Olivia checked into the former British Club of Kishangunj and met historian Anuradha Chatterjee. The actress was also shown Harriot Bazet’s marriage certificate. However, Anuradha Chatterjee also explained that because they could not find Harriot’s birth certificate there was a strong chance Harriot’s mother had been a Kishanganj local rather than British. When Harriot was three or four-years-old, her father died and was sent to England. She eventually came back to Calcutta, present-day Kolkata, in her early 20s, where her first marriage ended shortly after her husband’s death, post which she married Charles Young Bazet.

Tags: academy awards, menstruation