It's weird that there's a big movie that's just come out called Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and that there are tonnes of people queueing up to go watch it. You'd think, with a name like that, it'd be some sort of guerilla film, meant to bemuse, beguile and downright trick an unlucky few into paying to watch it. However, Toilet isn't like that at all. In fact, it's about as real as films get.
Akshay Kumar is the quintessential chotte sheher ka bada aadmi (big man of a small town). He's active, loud, mustached, entrepreneurial, and rides a Hero Honda Splendour-like bike. He is also unmarried and lives with his pundit father and talkative younger brother in a bustling village-town where there are simply no toilets or shauchalayas and everyone has to visit the fields on the outskirts with their lotas (metal pots) to relieve themselves. Everyone's status-quo is challenged, however, by the arrival of Bhumi Pednekar, Akshay Kumar's new wife, who will not go to the fields on principle.
While it is no secret which specific issue this film targets, one of the places it succeeds overwhelmingly is in giving viewers a sense of how interconnected various issues are. The absence of adequate toilets and sanitation facilities in the country has as much to do with a civic authority's lackadaisical attitude as the prevailing societal mindset. For every babu sitting on a sanitation department file, there are about a million bumpkins who just don't see the point — why build a tiny toilet and dirty one's own house when the great outdoors are just waiting for that very purpose?
It's impossible to sit through the first half of Toilet and not think, 'Man, they really nailed middle-India'. There's a great sense of how the country is changing, especially because of mobile phones. The things people say; what they watch on their little screens; how they flirt and woo; what their issues and hold-ups are ... these are presented masterfully. Characterisation and dialogues reflect the themes of the film — shauch, wedding-related-innuendos, conservative and progressive mindsets, and the combination of all these. So be ready for a lot of earthy lines!
At this point, it's important to add that Toilet is a pretty long film. A fairly singular issue, because of the liberal and unwise application of Jugaad, slowly escalates to the point where a fictitious CM of Uttar Pradesh even has to appear on the screen. There is a bit of pandering to various governments and their programmes towards the end, and even a line about demonetisation that threatens to expose Toilet as a sell out. But beyond that, there's no reason why it shouldn't be a must-watch for everyone.
Toilet is the public service announcement (PSA) of India's dreams. The sheer density of the web of issues it addresses makes it a bit of a wonder, and this, along with Akshay Kumar's stunningly believable performance make it work. What doesn't work, though, is the love story. Something had to be sacrificed in order to support the weight of the film's attack on backward thinking. Unfortunately, it was Akshay Kumar and Bhumi Pednekar's on-screen marriage.
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Bhumi Pednekar, Sudhir Pandey, Divyendu Sharma
What it nails: Its snapshot of middle-India. Not getting lost in toilet-related humor. Making it abundantly clear that fighting the mentality will entail fighting the mental. Akshay Kumar.
Where it falls: It's too long. It's too complimentary of various governments and their activities. Starting the film off by thanking Akhilesh Yadav (not his government, mind) and that hara-kiri-like statement about demonetisation hugely compromises an otherwise well-intentioned (and potentially international film award-bound?) effort.
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