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Short film review: Period. End of Sentence.

Malu Rocha reviews the short documentary film about menstruation that won this year's Oscar

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Image Credit: Netflix

I’m going to join the bandwagon and say it, even though I’m three months late (pun intended): I can’t believe a film about menstruation won an Oscar. Period. End of Sentence. follows the story of hundreds of women in India who stand up to fight the stigma around menstruation by manufacturing sanitary pads. The film was directed by Ryaka Zehtabchi and takes place in the Hapur District, a rural village around 60km outside Delhi.

Even today, it’s undeniable that there is a taboo around menstruation in India. The film shines a light on women who have been deprived from going into Hindu temples during their period, and who have been put in isolation for a week every month. These women didn’t have easy access to sanitary pads, leading them to use discarded cloth rags which lead to several health issues. Period. End of Sentence. tells their story. Sort of.

Although the premise seems captivating, the execution lacks focus. The film was marketed very strongly as an exploration of how young women in India are being deprived of their education, further shown through director Zehtabchi’s speech at the Oscars: “A period should end a sentence, not a girl’s education.”Undoubtedly this is a very powerful statement, but it does not resonate with the film. At all.

In fact, the whole documentary lacks focus, and most of its problems stem from its unclear structure. The film jumps between a tale of how men see this taboo, to young Sneha’s journey, to newly found access to sanitary pads, all without giving the audience enough time to breathe or even process the information. Put simply, the pace of the film does not do justice to its deep message.

Period. End of Sentence. feels like a poorly compressed version of a feature, not allowing time for the narrative to develop naturally. Because of this, the impression left on the audience is one of a fabricated tale, where everything seems just a bit too moulded and artificial. The story of how hundreds of women have started a revolution simply does not fit into a 26-minute time frame.

However, the film does have some heart wrenching moments (particularly the opening interviews and intense blank stares) that resonate deeply with the audience. Highlighting testimonies such as a father figure saying that menstruation is ‘a kind of illness’ and an elderly woman saying that ‘this is something only God knows’, the film definitely succeeds in making a statement and getting its point across.

In this particular film, the sound score does wonders to keep the momentum going. The music was created by Osei Essed, Giosuè Greco and Dan Romer, who do a great job at elevating spirits while still treating the subject matter with the seriousness it deserves. Instead of the music being melancholic, it is uplifting and inspiring, much like the journey of the women portrayed in the film.

Oh, the elephant in the room. Probably the biggest loophole that the film fails to acknowledge is the fact that the reason these women are making a change in their society is because of Arunachalam Muruganantham, the creator of the low-cost pad machine. The film jumps from portraying men as deeply uneducated about the subject, to then introducing Muruganantham’s amazing invention that started this revolution without justification, therefore becoming quite contradicting in itself.

How is the audience supposed to believe that this is a taboo in India if one man dedicated his life to create a product that would benefit thousands of women on their periods? I understand that a Bollywood film (Pad Man) was done on his life in 2018, but did his years of studying the woman’s period and inventing this masterpiece really not deserve a couple more minutes on screen? Fair enough, the story isn’t about him, but this lack of acknowledgement makes the film’s bias shine through, making you question the validity of its claims.

Additionally, the film has a touch of capitalism that seems quite out of place within the context of the story. Put bluntly, at times it feels like a social network sponsored video. The sequence where Muruganantham holds up both his pad and one from an established brand in the market to compare them looks like it came straight out of a promotional ad. The film’s message is brilliant, and it should most definitely be celebrated. However, it unfortunately is not the game-changer it sets out to be.

Period. End of Sentence. won the Oscar in the category of best Documentary Short Subject at the 91st Academy Awards earlier this year. Unless you believe that the Academy deliberately took a political stance when awarding this film, it’s somewhat hard to understand why the filmmaking techniques stood out from the others in its category. Yes, it is impressive that a film about menstruation made it to the Oscars, and it’s even more impressive that an all-female crew went on stage to accept the award, but should the Academy really prioritise social activism over exemplary filmmaking?

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