Vicaom 18 Motion Pictures, Kriarj Entertainment, Plan C Studios, Cape Of Good Films present: “Toilet Ek Prem Katha”
Produced by: Aruna Bhatia, Shital Bhatia, Arjun N. Kapoor and Hitesh Thakkar
Edited and directed by Shree Narayan Singh
Written with lyrics by Siddharth Singh and Garima Wahal (Siddhath-Garima)
Music: Vickey Prasad, Manas-Shikar, Aditya Pushkarna and Sachet-Parampara
Starring: Akshay Kumar, Bhumi Pednekar, Divyendu, Shubha Khote, Anupam Kher, Sudhir Pandey, Ayesha Raza Mishra, Atul Srivastava, Mukesh Bhatt, Rajesh Sharma, Sana Khan & others
MUMBAI—Yet another Neeraj Pandey-Akshay Kumar film shows that this formidable team works, whether Pandey is just behind the scenes as a part of Plan C Studios, or just a producer (“Naam Shabana,” “Rustom”) besides being the director in “Special 26” and “Baby.”
This time, writers Siddharth-Garima (who take complete charge of the writing, complete with the lyrics, the way Rajendra Krishan and occasionally Gulzar would do in the past) and editor-director Shree Narayan Singh spin a multi-layered story.
“Toilet: Ek Prem Katha,” is, first, a love story between Keshav (Akshay Kumar) and Jaya (Bhumi Pednekar), that is inspired by a real story that took place in North India between a Mr. & Mrs. Naare (duly acknowledged in the end credits). Both reel and reel stories have an (absent!) toilet and a stinking (pun intended!) centuries-old and patriarchal herd mentality as the main villains.
At a second level, the film is a hard-hitting social drama about how a huge chunk of Indians have no access to toilets – shockingly in most cases of their own choice! The governments build them or wish to build them, but the panchayats and other local powers do not want sanitation (out of misguided religious beliefs) and prefer open defecation and closed mindsets. How callous and humiliating this proves for women is glossed over – shockingly, mainly by the women themselves.
Through a little political partisanship (which is permissible, not brazen, but maybe could have been avoided), the message is sent loud and clear. Toilet scams are discussed, but with the clear-cut asterisked ‘Conditions apply’ that they happened with a previous government. But even as today’s government officials are shown caught in red-tape, they are shown to have the good of the people at heart.
In the final analysis, if films that hit out at our governments are okay, on the reverse side, such movies should also not be considered objectionable when the issue is something about which today’s powers-that-be are serious. As Bhumi Pednekar told India-West, “For the first time, we have a government and a Prime Minister who are talking about such issues.”
A solid opening sequence shows a women’s “lota (a small water pot of metal) party” going just before daybreak from the Mandgaon village to a remote area to relieve themselves. For safety, they must walk together, but they also risk passing headlights that can focus on their exposed lower bodies even as they cover their faces with their sarees. For the men, it is far easier – they go behind their houses to the riverside. This open defecation has been going on from time immemorial!
Then we come to the not-too-brief (and we feel rather extraneous) digression of Keshav having the last meeting with his girlfriend (Sana Khan) as they are getting married, but not to each other. Keshav, a school dropout but with great general knowledge, is the elder son of the ultra-orthodox pandit Bauji (Sudhir Pandey). He is thus married off traditionally to Mallika, a cow, as he is a ‘manglik’ (a fault in the horoscope that is believed to kill the first spouse). After this, as per his father’s study of religious doctrines, Keshav can marry a girl only if she has two thumbs on one hand!
Neither Keshav nor his younger brother Naru (Divyendu) can open their mouths in front of their strict father, who takes after his autocratic mother Dadi (Shubha Khote). And soon, because of a toilet in a train as it happens, Keshav encounters Jaya, a graduate with several degrees, fiercely loyal parents (Ayesha Raza Mishra and Atul Srivastava) and an uber-progressive grandfather (Anupam Kher) who incidentally loves Sunny Leone songs!
While their first encounter is a clash, they soon fall in love and Keshav fashions her an ingenious prosthetic extra finger to let his father allow the wedding. However, trouble brews the next dawn when Jaya finds that there is no toilet in their house.
Over the next few days, Keshav tries his best to convince his father about building a small toilet in their home but to no avail. Finally, Jaya leaves him. After this, the husband and wife conspire to bring in toilets as a mission. And the opposition begins at Keshav’s home itself and extends to all the womenfolk, programmed to this life of indignity and scornful of the educated girl who is taking on the system for them!
It is here that Siddharth-Garima and director-editor Singh both go a shade off the track. The first half harps too much on their love story, typical of Hindi romantic films. The 155-minute film ideally should have been done within a neat 135 to 140, and the interval could have been worked in after the issue-based part of the story got a start.
As things stand, too much is crammed in the second half, making many things look abrupt and sans explanation, chief among them being how suddenly the women rally around Jaya to absurd lengths, and how some things are just glossed over towards the happy ending. On the other hand, the interesting touches include Dadi’s fall in the house, the remark about how the holy river is polluted and the chief minister’s rather ‘filmi’ but a simple device to slice all red tape.
Yes, such a film, on a commercial scale, needed this positive end, but as most of the film is real and gritty, and there are lovely touches, especially to Keshav’s character evolution with even some gray streaks shown earlier, the film could have been shown a gradual and more convincing turnaround towards the village’s attitudes.
Still, these are small bloopers in the overall scenario, and the film does emerge as a supremely entertaining film that is also hard-hitting. Pre-eminently worth a visit, even to us worthies who have never been minus a toilet at home, the film is like the sugarcoated pills that Hrishikesh Mukherjee called his slice-of-line entertainers.
The dialogues are a highlight throughout. Among the performances, there is lots of excellence. With Akshay Kumar’s Keshav, you can feel the grime, the sweat and the simple intensity of a villager, who jettisons his traditions for love. As he succinctly puts it, such issues attain importance only when one’s personal lives are affected.
Preventing this film from being a one-person show for Kumar is his feisty heroine and wife, Bhumi Pednekar. But for a passing odd or incongruous expression, she is fantastic as Jaya, and her expressive eyes speak even louder than her words. Standout performances from Pandey, Khote, Mukesh Bhatt as Rastogi the scribe and Anupam Kher as Bhumi’s grandfather prop up the quality of the film further.
Divyendu is a low-key delight, quietly acing a simple yet deceptively easy role. Atul Srivastava and Ayesha Raza Mishra as Bhumi’s parents, especially the latter, are all the more impactful for their low-profile performances. Rajesh Sharma is a sheer delight as the likable government official.
After a long famine of movies worth watching, do go to this love-laden loo for some real relief!
Rating: **** (Almost)