Will the Strong Social Message from Phullu ever reach the Right Masses?

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Our Delhi-based columnist Mahima tells us why Phullu, a film meant for the masses to educate them about menstrual hygiene at the right age, will not reach them. And how are the educated masses reacting to the ridiculous act behind it? Read more about it, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.

I was in class six when mom spoke to me at length on puberty and menstruation. I was 12. I was brought up in an upper-middle-class household where my sister and I were free to discuss anything under the sun and question anything freely.

In contrast, my paternal cousins didn’t have such freedom. They were brought up in a remote village, where talking puberty, menstruation and related things was still a taboo. But the talks familiarising them about the same happened at similar age as mine. Why? Because my mother coaxed my paternal aunt about why it is necessary.

So in short, menstruation was discussed with its reasons and required hygiene when we were close to teenage, since the cycle begins at that age.

But such an education at home doesn’t happen in most of the households in India. What happens is a teenaged girl suddenly bleeding rushes to her mother out of fear having some deadly disease. What comes out from the mother is an instruction that now you are a woman, don’t hang around near boys, don’t touch pickle jar, don’t offer obeisance to the Almighty for five days, and don’t touch me while I am doing some ‘neat and clean work’ and blah blah blah. How to go about hygienically during these five days, is never told.

My maid, who belongs to a remote village in West Bengal and doesn’t want to be named here (imagine the intensity of the taboo attached), tells me, “Didi, I used to fall sick many a times during periods when in village. My mother didn’t talk to me openly and I wasn’t allowed to talk to the local doctor either. She said that it was usual with every girl and if I am seen talking to the doctor about it, this will bring shame to the house. It is only when I came to work to New Delhi that I dared to meet the doctor, talk about it and feel better, medically.”

Just imagine! This is the very reason why the filmmakers of Phullu decided to make the film, which was released on June 16, to spread the right message to the masses. But it won’t reach them. Why? Because the CBFC chaired by Pahlaj Nihalani has given an ‘A Certificate’ to the film!

If menstruation starts at teenage, why was Abhishek Saxena’s Phullu, a film on menstruation aimed at young boys and girls, received an A rating from the CBFC? Can the top-chair and team explain what is adult about menstruation?

Phullu is the story of a man unaware of menstruation but indirectly aware of ‘certain issues’ his wife is facing using a red cloth for ‘something’ every month. He learns about menstruation and related hygiene from a doctor. And then spends his entire saving buying whole lot of sanitary pads for his wife!

But did the CBFC really care about the message to be delivered to the right age people?

Girls begin menstruating when they are pre-adults but the Central Board of Film Certification, by this act, indicates it believes that it is not right to talk about it till they become adults. So the teenaged ones need to wait for five more years to learn about hygiene? How ridiculous! Nihalani and his team, one senior doctor has a message for them.

Sanjay Ranaut, a senior surgeon at a government hospital in Hamirpur, Himachal Pradesh, is the view, “India is lagging behind when we discourage the public to watch the movies which will have a massive impact in terms of physiological understanding of the human body.

“Menstruation is a physiological activity of the human body and requires the natural process of fertilisation. We have a lot to educate the general public and everyone by using such measures of mass media and movies to educate people so as the national programmes launched by the government can be successful. If the movie is certified ‘A’ how will it reach the masses?”

I second Dr. Ranaut, that it is our responsibility as a citizen to let the politics of any sort, aside from when it is a matter of Education.

Phullu is a very good concept whereby we can take up this topic or concern at the national level and let everyone watch it, even teenagers have the right to know what is happening to their body due to physiology and we have to break the barrier of antagonism for speaking and showing topics of fertility and human body development,” asserts Dr Ranaut, whose wife Sonika Ranaut, also a doctor is attached to the UNDP’s project in Himachal imparting health education among the rural women. Previously Dr. Sonika was actively associated with National Sanitary Hygiene Program, which was approved way back in 2011.

So, it is evident that CBFC team perhaps missed out the news or still wants to live with age-old mentality? In the past, too many films with a strong message have either been not cleared by CBFC or got an ‘A Certificate’.

Neelanjana Banerjee one of the actors in the film tells me, “When my casting director called me for this film, he said it’s a feature film that highlights a social issue. I was intrigued right then. It was a cameo but when I got to know it was about the menstrual hygiene theme. I felt a sense of pride taking up the project.”

An ‘A Certificate’ came as a shock to the entire team. We are moving to the Digital Age, but mentally we are stuck in the Stone Age,” regrets Neelanjana.

She believes that in a progressive yet not 100% literate society like ours, it is much more necessary that the natural process of a woman’s body (which is an essential part of her reproductive system) is not treated as a taboo.

“The A certificate to a film like Phullu shows the hypocrisy of our society. We talk a lot about educating the girl-child, sex education for kids, etc. But when it comes to real education or making them understand the situation, we take a backseat. Phullu’s story is an eye-opener and must reach the masses rather than limiting it to the certain audience due to A Certificate,” asserts a somewhat angry Divya Bhatia, owner of H2O Communications New Delhi and mother of a boy and a girl.

Aditya Sinha, a Patna, Bihar-based banker believes, “Start the conversation on menstruation early and start it with boys. I am an educated banker, but I got to know about menstruation and the entire process through my girlfriend, who is now my wife. My son, I will ensure, understands the nuances early.”

Hearing him gives me a sense of relief that at least few around me are moving in the right direction. But are these few enough? These few are from the urban areas and the message has to reach the rural ones where in general even normal hygiene is a big issue.

In short, a film which deserved an applause for bringing to fore an important message was given an ‘A Certificate’.

But, in a film world, where at times even bikini shots are passed without an A certification, films based on a social cause like Phullu cannot reach the right audience. Any secret motive behind it or just a backward mindset?

I wrap it up by reminding the CBFC that Phullu says “Jo Aurat Ka Dard Nahin Samajhta, Bhagwan Usey Mard Nahin Samajhta.” Period

©Mahima Sharma

Photos and videos from the internet.

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A science graduate from Delhi University and MA in Mass Communication, Mahima began her career with E-Lexicon PR & Mutual PR and Hindustan Times. Soon, ANI (a collaboration with Reuters) got her aboard, where she spread her wings in TV, Print & Digital Journalism. In 2010 Rajdeep Sardesai’s flagship primetime show gave her, a dream job at CNN-IBN. From May 2017, she is a freelance journalist. She is a poet and a Sufi at heart.