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Even though the movie is talking about toilets, Director Shree Narayan Singh’s sanitation celluloid Toilet Ek Prem Katha (TEPK) is a creative representation of a social satire enveloped entirely around a romantic tale. A non-squeamish visual where the audience won’t feel awkward chewing popcorn comfortably on their recliners!
Virtuoso protagonist Akshay Kumar, who plays the role of Keshav, a hopeful-romantic husband who is struggling with the unjust practice of defecation in public has gripped the audience with his wit, humour and watertight performance throughout the film. While Bhumi Pednekar (last seen as the terrific Sandhya in Dum Laga ke Haisha) is the actual backbone of the movie as Jaya, who becomes the voice of rural women demanding a public toilet for a comfortable and healthy lifestyle. It is her boldness and tenacity of character which may become the auxiliary support to make this visual experience into a stirring national movement.
The Uttar Pradeshi accent of dramatists and rural sequences from a village near Mathura amplifies the realism in drama, and the duo screen writers Garima-Siddharth’s plot narration flawlessly showcases the struggle of the 58% of Rural India, who still defecates in public, especially women who eventually become prone to atrocities such as rape and abduction. The non-documentary story is desperately proving itself to be a mirror, where citizens are notified to recreate their philosophy about sanitation and cleanliness and not just consider as the government’s responsibility. The conflicts of antagonistic cultural beliefs are strongly colliding with the civic responsibilities, and the catharsis continually ascends as the society doesn’t accept to leave their conventional defecation practices, while the lovey-dovey duos go through stressful situations while saving their marriage. I personally hail from the civilised dens of Ahmedabad, but since my native is still situated in the North-Indian rural sects of the society, it didn’t come up as a surprising fact for me that for many people in India, using a toilet is still considered opulence. The film is entertaining, yet it is more of an advertisement, rather than a thoughtful social drama. But it didn’t seem to be on the mind of the makers to create a classic like Mandi or an Ankush.
The hammering message of cleanliness supports Prime Minister’s keynote campaign of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan methodically, while few dialogues also reflected the scheme of demonetization and the Digital India initiative. So it won’t surprise me if Akshay Kumar becomes the preferable choice to enact as Narendra Modi in one of the upcoming feature film, on the popular Prime Minister of India.
Veteran actor Sudhir Pandey, who plays the role of Keshav’s father, Bauji, was a needed expressionist to showcase the enormity of the situation, where he is forced to think about getting a toilet within a house, exactly under the roof where he worships the holy basil. Prodigy recitalist Divyendu Sharma has successively made the audience smile as a supportive actor but unlike his presence in Pyar Ka Punchnama, couldn’t exaggerate it to make it a laughter ride experience. Although director Singh did justify the subject undivisively, I think he could’ve justified the character of Kakkaji, which was enacted by none other than doyen dramatist Anupam Kher, by giving it an extended screen presence, while cropping the post-interval 10 minute Sarpanch discourse scene.
The sensitising sound scores of the film are hummable, and songs like Bakheda, Hans Mat Pagli and Gori Tu Lath Mar can be enjoyed even without the visuals. So do give them an ear when they get played on loop over the radio stations.
The film Toilet Ek Prem Katha is eventually a mainstream potboiler, an ideal matinee watch and even for the family audience an opportunity to think about how we can contribute to make the developing nation into a non-stinking abode. To the cerebral audience who would venture into the film expecting a witty social satire that offers intelligent solutions, this may not be the film for them. There are films that put forth social issue to the wider audience and than there are films which are propaganda based..Toilet Ek Prem Katha falls somewhere in between.
If not a cinematic achievement, it is definitely a welcome effort to merge mainstream Hindi film vocabulary into a much talked about social issue.
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