Cast: Akshay Kumar, Bhumi Pednekar, Divyendu, Sudhir Pandey, Anupam Kher
Director: Shree Narayan Singh
What makes any film great is the way it uplifts even as it sends out a profound message. And Akshay Kumar-Bhumi Pednekar starrer Toilet: Ek Prem Katha not just entertains, but comes with the potential to stay with the viewers long after the final credits roll. Unlike majority of the Bollywood films that find huge contentment and gratification in being referred to as ‘throwaway entertainment’, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha should be appreciated for taking up the issues of sanitation only to trigger recurrent discussions and in-depth analysis of how open defecation in India leads to sexual assault of women and diseases. Much like the multiple news reports that you’d have read by now, Toilet Ek Prem Katha also talks about a woman’s fight for most cardinal dignity: toilet.
The film puts forth the story of Jaya (Bhumi Pednekar) who puts up a fight with her husband Keshav (Akshay Kumar) after she discovers on the wedding night that he doesn’t have a toilet in his house. Least interested in joining the ‘lota party’ (a bunch of women from the same village who visit the nearby jungles to relieve themselves), Jaya decides to abandon her husband. Her fight isn’t just against the discomfort that women have to face when they have to go to the fields to defecate. It is a fight against women bearing the brunt as they are usually attacked and assaulted when they step out either early in the morning or late at night. It is a fight against women falling prey to predators.
Even as the film puts forth the sanitation crisis in Indian and how it impacts everyone, especially women, it also exposes the caste-related mental block on constructing toilets at home. The dialogue ‘Jiss aangan mei tusli lagate hain wahan shoch karna shuru kar dein?’ from the film is enough to understand that majority of men are happy to have households without toilets, courtesy the idea – you can’t abuse the sanctity of Tulsi. That’s not all. The film also shows just how paranoid Indians are about the manglik dosh. When Kesha’s father says, ‘Ek manglik aur upar se kundali mei dosh, ab yeh bhains hi bachwyegi” it shows just how convenient it is for us Indians to take life’s important decision – including that of marriage – on the basis of blind faith and not logic. All to prove the film plays a key role in debunking worthless myths and superstitions.
As far as performances are concerned, Bhumi – who had won hearts with her Bollywood debut Dum Lagake Haisha – is back with yet another unconventional character. After doing full justice to her character Sandhya –an overweight woman who is never burdened by her size – she meets the challenge of playing the feisty Jaya by owning every sequence she has been featured in. At least, she isn’t dolled up with the sole motive to be pushed to the background. She is feisty, strong, and possesses every trait a modern girl needs to survive in today’s world. While addressing a group of rural women, she says, “Hum toh auratein hain humein har cheez ke liye zyada mehnat karni padegi” – one of the many hard-hitting dialogues that capture the misogynist Indian society. Her shock at realizing she’d have to defecate in open, her angst in being spotted by her father-in-law while attending to nature’s call, and her determination not to disembark the train even as her husband insists – every aspect of her character will strike a chord with the viewers. If her character remains etched in the viewers’ minds that would be Bhumi’s triumph.
Akshay Kumar does a good job in playing the best husband ever. It is interesting to see how Keshav – who had dismissed the need for a toilet by saying “ek shoch ke liye itna gussa” – transforms into a selfless man, who lives to please his wife. Even though the world around him comes crumbling down with almost everyone in his village scorning him for supporting his wife, he remains undeterred to get the toilet built in his house. His moral compass is fixed towards the positive direction, and he refuses to accept failure. He learns the need to dust off the cobwebs in minds of his family and rest of the villagers, and shows no inhibitions in apologizing to the woman he has hurt. It is the change in mindset that makes Keshav such a likeable character. Actors Anupam Kher and Divyendu Sharma too play their parts well.
As far as technical aspects go, the film’s music is quite impressive, courtesy its rustic vibe.
Director Shree Narayan Singh keeps things simple, entertaining and engaging. Had the film been edited smartly, it wouldn’t have looked unnecessarily stretched out. If anybody has read about open defecation in India, would understand just how important it is for Bollywood to take up the issue and create awareness.