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‘Shubh Mangal Saavdhan’: Bollywood’s First Attempt At Questioning The Stigma Of Masculinity

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R.S Prasanna’s “Shubh Mangal Saavdhan” is a story of two lovebirds who cannot make “it” happen. Actually, ‘he’ cannot make it happen. Mudit and Sugandha fall in love and see dreams of a marital union that lasts long. This streak of dreams also includes sexual satisfaction but they soon realise that the man cannot make it to bed and this becomes the highlight of the film. The above concern also acts as the so-called catalyst that drives the family of the bridegroom-to-be into a space of utter bewilderment of something ‘unheard of’, yet hinting at the lopsided social constructs in sheer entertainment.

First, the fact that Sugandha compels Mudit to initiate sexual intercourse by saying, “It’s the rule”, comes from a subtly embedded patriarchal mindset. That is to say that the man is deemed as the sole executor and that if the woman seems to want it more than him, she would perceive herself conventionally depraved. Demonstrating the same aspiration, the sexual portrayal of Sugandha is crafted with the elements of demureness and coyness. Such caricatures are built initially to place the meek lady and her chivalrous prince shining in his phallic glory in binary. While imagining this, the next thing one knows is that that glory is hollow in this case, as projected by the half-crumbled cookie.

Obviously, this stands as a tide in the mushy waters of their association as both personal and social concerns capture the forefront. Now, what is simply a sudden “gents’ problem” for Mudit is Sugandha’s dissatisfied biological need. On the flip side, the families are ready for the wedding fervour for two pre-determinedly “productive” beings. This exposes the reality of a conformist attitude that mostly treads the territory of presumptions, negating the ‘grey areas’ and thereby suppressing voices. But more importantly, the constant denial of Mudit’s family of his being temporarily infertile and Sugandha’s parents threatening to call off the wedding, throws emphasis on the skewed face of patriarchy, in general.

Mudit is burdened with what people expect him to be and do and what he thinks he should be capable of and hence, shows disinterest in the celebration upon facing the loopholes in the existing “norms” for a man. The film stresses on how masculinity is viewed under the arbitrary rubric of physicality, just to fulfil the ‘needs’ of a woman and that a marital alliance is rendered ‘incomplete’ in the absence of a sexually potent individual. On the other hand, Sugandha eventually comes to terms with the entire situation and experiences platonic affection for Mudit which is not observed by her parents. She bursts the image of a woman ‘lacking’ something due to her physical virginity and liberates womanhood by standing by Mudit while coming out of her own shackles of despair, which is merely a by-product of her mental conditioning.

Moreover, while Mudit is adamant at breaking his relationship with Sugandha for he cannot make her ‘happy’, she hopes for a blissful life with him and injects confidence into him. Mudit replicates her steadfastness by explaining to the families that she is making him a ‘man’ and that their bond rests on true care and friendship. In this way, Sugandha blurs the lines of gender orientation by establishing herself as, so to say, the customary “male” unit between the both of them. Therefore at this point, the self-pervasive concept of masculinity boils down to simply standing firm in the face of adversity and being truthful to oneself. As both are struck with these multiple revelations, Mudit and Sugandha finally tie the knot without needless ostentation, keeping up to the honesty of their strong affinity. Lastly, the fact that they are unable to attract everyone’s consent as opposed to a standard comical climax accentuates social realism and a varied degree of acceptance.

Taking it a step further, the movie is set in a modest socio-economic backdrop with characters exemplifying the common masses. Further, the very minimal dramatic effect creates enough scope for reinstating the gender roles. As Sugandha becomes the saviour to Mudit and not the opposite, it disturbs the defined lines of irrational idealism. Moreover, the music too buttresses the urge to rethink the social norms as now, kanha does not need a gopi to banter with but to understand him emotionally. Lastly, this opens to how a male-dominated standpoint is an onus to not only women but to men as well. Therefore, this film is a good watch for those who want to think outside the box.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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