Akshay Kumar has been on a winning streak with his past few films. One film after the other, he has been choosing stories that take inspiration from reality. Be it Special 26, Airlift or Rustom. With Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, he has gone a step ahead and taken up a cause that has been ailing India since centuries and continues to be an issue that needs urgent attention and immediate action. The film, directed by Shree Narayan Singh starring Akshay and Bhumi Pednekar, aims at bringing focus to the problem of open defecation in rural India, resonating with the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan of the current government. In such a scenario, one of its important challenges would be to not come across as a propaganda project. Does Toilet Ek Prem Katha successfully tug at your heartstrings with its love story while driving home a point or does it end up being all fart and no shit? Read my review. Also Read - Durgamati Trailer Twitter Reactions: Netizens Compare Bhumi Pednekar's Performance With Anushka Shetty And They Are Not Impressed!
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Keshav (Akshay Kumar) and Jaya (Bhumi Pednekar) hail from villages in Mathura where homes do not have a toilet. Not because these households have financial constraints, but because having a toilet in the same premises as the kitchen and pooja room is against the ‘Bhartiya Sabhyata.’ While Keshav – who lives with his father, a staunch Panditji (Sudhir Pandey) and younger brother Naroo (Divyendu Sharma) – has never felt the need to build a ‘shauchalaya’ at home, Jaya comes from a more liberal household; where she has been provided with a closed-door lavatory right from birth. What happens when Keshav and Jaya fall in love and decide to get married? Barring some regressive religious beliefs of Panditji that Keshav solves with his fool-proof ‘jugaad’, there are no villains coming in the way of their marriage. However, the ideology which is against the building of a toilet in every home and has no qualms about open defecation plays a spoilsport in the couples married life. Also Read - Durgamati Motion Poster Out: Bhumi Pednekar is Ready For 'Payback Time', Trailer To Release Tomorrow
Jaya decides to leave Keshav’s house and even hints at a divorce if the toilet situation doesn’t change. Keshav is left with only one option – agar biwi paas chahiye, toh ghar mein sandaas chahiye. After a failed attempt at getting the fellow villagers on his side, he starts doing the rounds of government offices to get done what is needed. Age old traditions, regressive mindsets, value systems, and corruption, he will have to fight it all to save his marriage.
Toilet Ek Prem Katha promised us a love story with a social issue as its central theme and it doesn’t disappoint. The love story of Keshav and Jaya is endearing and their journey from lovers to a married couple have enough moments to turn your heart into mush. When one decides to fight all odds for love, the other one goes all out to render support. Irrespective of the physical distance between them, there is no difference in their thinking. While it is Jaya who makes Keshav understand the importance of ‘shauch’, it doesn’t take him much time to change his ‘soch’ about the issue. This alone is a win for a film that talks about a situation which may not be a reality of all its target audience. The situation Keshav and Jaya are fighting against may change from couple to couple, but these relationship dynamics makes their story relatable.
The film aims at highlighting what is wrong about open defecation and does it beautifully. It points out the myths, religious bindings, societal norms that see open defecation as ‘socialising’; the lack of protest from women who have failed to assert themselves and accepted taking a dump in the fields before dawn as a way of life; and the half-baked job done by the government that has allocated money to build toilets in villages but failed to check corruption or educate people about the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of using these. Toilet Ek Prem Katha may not be able to bring in change overnight but it does have the potential to make people aware and more open to the idea of building a toilet.
Talking about performances, Akshay is effortless in his scenes – when he is playing a romantic lover or when he is a distraught husband or a resolute man on a mission. Bhumi is a natural and complements him well. She is convincing in her part of a strong woman who puts her foot down for what she doesn’t deem right. Together, the duo gets the Mathurawala dialect right. Other actors – Divyendu Sharma (as Akshay’s younger brother who loves pulling his brother’s leg will keep you entertained with his sarcastic one-liners), Sudhir Pandey (as Akshay’s father who lives by the adage ‘my way or the high way’ represents every Indian who is unable to see any logic beyond religious beliefs), Anupam Kher (as Bhumi’s liberal grandfather who feels women have the right to speak up for their right and what is right) – make for a great support cast.
One aspect that deserves applause is, for a change, when the woman protagonist in the film decides to take a stand, we have four of the most important men in her life standing with her and supporting her opinion! This is a refreshing change and a welcome element in a film that is already up against some ancient values.
Toilet Ek Prem Katha also highlights the risks of health scares, kidnapping, sexual harassment and rape that women run while defecating in the open. It is done subtly without any gory details or scenes yet making an impact.
The film starts off well and keeps you entertained in the first half but gets too preachy for comfort post interval. There are many scenes that make it look like a propaganda film for the present government’s recent campaigns – be it the demonetization drive or the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan. These are long term plans and it is too soon to judge how successful these have been. However, the film has already given these initiatives an A+ certificate.
What to do?
Watch it for Akshay and Bhumi’s crackling chemistry. This is by far the best fresh pairing we have seen onscreen this year.
India.com rating: 3 stars