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When Arunachalam mistook Akshay Kumar for Akshaye Khanna and Twinkle for Raveena Tandon

Khanna sat with the original Pad Man Arunachalam Muruganantham for a discussion with television journalist Barkha Dutt

Mayur Lookhar

Come Republic Day 2018, Indian audiences will welcome Akshay Kumar’s Pad Man, that is based on the life of a sanitary pad maker Arunachalam Muruganantham. Pad Man producer Twinkle Khanna and Arunachalam were part of a discussion with TV journalist Bakrha Dutt.  

In their first meet, Khanna was left shocked as Arunachalam mistook her husband and her for someone else.

“I had to spent three hours to persuade him that I should be able to write his story. He was reluctant, and said we will see," said Khanna, who was then in for a shock.

“He told me that there were many peopple who want to tell his story. There’s Abhay Deol and Akshaye Khanna. I told him it's not Akshaye Khanna, but Akshay Kumar who is my husband. I’m the one who has been sending emails from his office,” she said.

Arunachalam confessed to barely watching any Hindi films. The last Hindi film he saw was Sholay (1975).  

"As I begin to walk out, he told me, you look like that actress. I’m trying to forget I was an actress and then here he said, you look like Raveena Tandon," said a bewildered Khanna, before adding, “That was it, I thought I’m going to drop this story now.”

Their first meet left Khanna embarrassed, but it was the inspirational tale of Arunachalam that compelled her to go ahead with the film.

“Here was this man, coming from his (humble) background. He decided that he must do something to help alleviate a little of the burden that women carry,” said Khanna.

“We believe that being proficient in English is a sign of having intelligence, but here was this man who clearly displayed the fact that intelligence is not bound by a language, it's not bound by any formal mechanism of education, it's inherent, something you can work and still succeed despite that. So, these factors appealed to me,” added Khanna.

Arunachalam had no idea what a sanitary napkin is and it was only until one day that he found his wife using a dirty cloth that he harboured a dream of gifting his wife a quality sanitary pad that then led him to manufacturing low cost pads.

Apparently, Arunachalam faced tough times to make his dream come true. Menstruation is considered a taboo subject by many in the country. His wife Shanti was reluctant to help him and so Arunachalam himself wore the sanitary pad.

"I wore it everyday for three weeks. I tried to get a woman volunteer, but except my wife and sister no one was willing," he said.

His wife, too, was hesitant to help him. "My wife would turn around and as she was embarrassed to talk face-to-face. We had photos of various gods on the walls, and she would say that why talk about menstruation in front of the gods. She said she would complain to my mother,” he said.

His wife threatened to divorce him and left. The man had hired the services of a young student, but that led to questions about his character. His wife would eventually return a few years later after she watched him on television. Since men don’t menstruate, Arunachalam fitted a rubber bladder filled with goat blood in it.  

Commenting on it, Arunachalam said, “I felt it is very unnatural. I understood one important thing – the strongest creatures in the world is no tiger or elephant, but it is a woman.”

Meanwhile, asked why menstruation has ben such a taboo subject in India, Khanna replied, “It’s conditioning, not just in India. If you go back in history, it was perceived that menstruation makes dogs go rabid, crops fail. I think it's over the years we ourselves have been told that it is unhygienic, it is dirty, you can’t go to temples. We started believing it is dirty and so we hide it ourselves.”

Asked about the most stupidest story she has heard on periods, the former actress said, “It was a cousin. She went to this Mata Ki Chowki while she was menstruating. The Mata’s cloth caught fire and her mother blamed her for setting the gods on fire.”

Khanna was among those who didn’t want the Goods and Services Tax applicable on sanitary napkins.

“I was the one who said that there should be no GST on sanitary pads. First of all, I’d like to say that Arunachalam Muruganatham took a pad   and he put it between his legs. There was a pipe there, with blood dripping and he walked around the whole day. If a male politician puts it between their legs with blood dripping, for even an entire day, I don’t think about taxes, but pads would be freely available in public institutions.”

On a serious note, Khanna explained, "As far as GST is concerned, what they (government) are saying that before GST there was 13% tax, and now it is 12%. Muruganatham and I have had discussions over it. He is a manufacturer. We worked something very simple. Without GST, a sanitary pad would cost around Rs112, and with a (manufacturer’s) profit it would cost Rs125. With GST even if you get input credit, it would cost the consumer Rs140. So, I don’t know how the GST is helping the manufacturers. Here (Muruganatham) is a manufacturer who is saying it is not.”

Watch the full discussion below: