I recently decided to have a “reading break” and turned my spare time to movies, particularly biographical movies or based on true events. I do not know if I have been lucky in my selections, but I have derived from various of them important political and social insights, as was the case with Pad Man, a Bollywood comedy-drama based on the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham, who devoted 20 years of his life to creating a machine that produces low-cost sanitary pads. The movie highlights an important taboo in India’s culture around sanitary pads, which constitutes also a health problem.
Mr. Pad Man’s love and concern for the health of his wife and other female relatives, combined with his obstinacy and conviction, led him to succeed in his goal, against all odds (no funding, no R&D support and no tech experience or education) and after being rejected by his family and his community.
The movie portrays great examples of both innovation and social responsibility.
In innovation, it is fascinating to hear him speak at the UN, where he explains that problems bring opportunities (optimistic mindset) and that he was lucky to receive the support of a child, who did not overthink the problem and guide him to work out the solution starting from a white sheet of paper (creativity), being receptive to failure (learning from failure) and requesting feedback (customer centricity). He says: “Today I changed my name from Lakshmi [his fictional name in the movie] CAN’T to Lakshmi CAN”, which reminded me of what business managers often tell compliance officers, lawyers, controllers and similar roles: ‘Do not tell us that we can’t, teach us how we can!’
Regarding social responsibility, it is exciting to see his reaction when, after receiving an innovation award which included financial support, he is advised to patent his invention and start selling it to third parties for profit. Mr. Pad Man refused the idea because it would have not been consistent with his initial goal to resolve his country’s health problem: would have caused an increase in the price of the pads, discouraging their purchase by Indian women. Consequently, he decided to take a different approach, which not only allowed him to achieve his initial goal but also to discover an efficient mechanism to empower women in India.
Overall, an entertaining movie that is worth the time!
[Note: My takeaways are based on the movie; the original speech of Mr. Pad Man in the UN is available in the Web.]