Award-winning director Rayka Zehtabchi’s newest project, Period. End of Sentence., takes viewers to Hapur, a rural village outside New Delhi, where a girl’s period can mean the end of her education.
The documentary short follows a group of local women as they learn how to operate a machine that makes low-cost, biodegradable sanitary pads, which they sell to other women at affordable prices. This not only helps to improve feminine hygiene by providing access to basic products but supports and empowers the women to shed the taboos in India surrounding menstruation — all while contributing to the economic future of their community.
The film has taken home awards at the Traverse City Film Festival and the Cleveland International Film Festival, among others, and is now shortlisted for an Oscar. EW spoke to Zehtabchi about the documentary’s inception, its impact, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you decide to make Period. End of Sentence.?
RAYKA ZEHTABCHI: This movement was started by a group of high school girls in Los Angeles and their English teacher, Melissa Berton, who is also a producer on the film. Melissa learned about this issue of women and girls dropping out of school worldwide because of their periods, and about Arunachalam Muruganantham, who invented a pad machine to combat the crippling stigma of menstruation. They decided the best way to spread awareness about this issue was to make a documentary. That’s where I came into the picture. I heard about the issue, and I was incredibly moved by it.
This film has received several awards. What are you most proud of?
The film festivals are a great outlet for seeing how audiences around the country respond to it. There was always a lot of support and interest, but since the launch of the film, there has been an additional pad machine installed in the neighboring village, and we also launched the nonprofit, The Pad Project.… Every time we’ve imagined a ceiling for this film, it’s been broken. The most valuable thing is not the film’s success, but rather pushing its narrative. We want to have the opportunity to screen this film in schools and organizations to further the cause.
Who is this film for?
It’s for women in India and in developing countries who feel ashamed because of their period, or are even just embarrassed to talk about their periods. But what’s been so successful with the film is that it also feels really universal in that it speaks a lot to men; every man who sees it is like, “Oh, I’m thinking about my mom, I’m thinking about my sister, I’m thinking about my aunt.”
What was your reaction to this disparity in knowledge and education on menstruation?
I was completely taken aback. I never had to face the issue of not having access to pads and tampons, so it was shocking asking a 40-year-old woman, “Can you explain to us what a period is?” and seeing sheer confusion on her face. You keep digging and you find out that all her life she’s thought she had an illness or something was wrong with her. That’s the reason we’re doing all of this. We want to change that, it shouldn’t be like that.
For more information about Period. End of Sentence., including a list of screenings, visit thepadproject.org.
This interview has been edited and condensed.