A pressing ‘public’ problem - Toilet Ek Prem Katha
There was scope for a satire on the new India, if Toilet Ek Prem Katha didn’t fall into the trap of shrill propaganda.
Set around Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, where computers, smart phones and social media have reached but not the ‘soch’ (thinking) that gives due respect to women. This is the Mathura where once a year, on Latth Maar Holi, women beat their husbands with sticks; the rest of the year they are ghunghat-wearing, submissive cows.
Wearing fake foreign brands but an Indian inside the skin (he describes himself thus), Keshav (Akshay Kumar) and his chatty brother Naru (Divyendu Sharma) are under the thumb of their Brahmin father (Sudhir Pandey).
If he has decided that 36-year-old Keshav has to marry a buffalo to ward off bad luck, and cannot get married to a woman unless she has two-thumbs (“like Hrithik Roshan”), he obeys without question. But lest you think Akshay Kumar is playing a loser, he has flings on the side, with cheerful break-ups.
Outside a train toilet — the loo is the movie’s presiding motif, after all — he meets the sharp-tongued Jaya (Bhumi Pednekar), who is educated and thinks like a foreigner (so she says). She vehemently objects to his stalking and using her picture to promote his cycle shop, but all she needs is a speech in which he says he will take on the world for her, and she is ready to marry him, turning into a ghunghat-wearing housewife.
But even she draws the line at going to the fields at the crack of dawn like other village women, to relieve herself. His father will not allow the construction of a toilet in the house, because it is against Indian culture (really?) so Keshav tries all kinds of jugaad, but Jaya gets fed-up and goes home to her parents. Her father and uncle (Anupam Kher) show their modernity by watching Sunny Leone songs on TV!
Up to this point, the film has a breezy charm, but Keshav’s quest to build a toilet either outside the village or inside the house, gets long drawn out and boring. In order to support the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, corrupt bureaucrats get a clean chit.
They have done their bit, but villagers either do not want toilets, or use the structures built for other purposes. By the time the women of the village have their say, it is too little and too late.
Still, Akshay Kumar is to be commended for doing a film like this, even if the subject was better suited for a short public-service ad, and a large chunk of his audience has never faced this problem. If the writers, director and star can still get people to empathise with Jaya (who gets a lot of flak in the film for being educated), then the film would have served some purpose.