Pro bono for PM
Bharathi S. Pradhan
Suddenly, words like "sanitary pads", "menstruation" and "toilet" have become healthy words in Hindi cinema but Pahlaj Nihalani, of course, won't allow "intercourse" (although the trailer of Jab Harry Met Sejal can be seen on YouTube without censor board interference). Unless the "I" word, too, becomes a part of some government programme, I suppose.
Akshay Kumar, with his newly-acquired script savviness and natural nose for profits, is right out there with both toilets and pads.
Last week, we saw a film called Phullu , which nobody really watched. It put out a discussion on menstrual hygiene at the rural level and the need for easy availability of low-cost sanitary pads. Noble, but cinematically so shabbily articulated that the social message it set out to convey got derailed.
Akshay will be treading the same territory when Padman , his biopic on the man who invented low-cost sanitary napkins, is ready for public viewing. With a sophisticated director like R. Balki helming it, hopefully the message will be successfully conveyed this time round.
It's the same with toilets. Despite a title like Toilet: Ek Prem Katha that sounds gross at the dining table, Akshay has managed to take the Prime Minister's message of a toilet-for-every-home into every drawing room. The trailer says it all - a bride scoots and won't come back to the marital home if the in-laws can't provide a toilet for her. But it's told with such a light touch that it becomes conversation-friendly as a topic. This acceptance, in turn, makes it easier for Akshay to be the unofficial conveyor of the PM's Swachh Bharat programme while scoring a goal for women and never forgetting the profit margin for everybody around. A three-in-one that consolidates Akshay's appropriation of all the patriotic release dates, like Eid is reserved for Salman Khan.
But it doesn't reserve toilets as Akshay's exclusive territory, which is also the subject matter of Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's Mere Pyare Prime Minister .
"Filmmaking is like walking naked on the streets," said Mehra at a function where I was asked to introduce him. He is a filmmaker who alternates every big hit (Rang De Basanti , Bhaag Milkha Bhaag) with a dismal flop (Delhi 6 , Mirzya) but is man enough to want to be known for his failures the same way as he's known for his successes. "Walking naked" was his way of saying that you've got to be ready for every kind of response the minute you enter the public arena of filmmaking.
Going by Mehra's see-saw graph, after Mirzya tanked, his MPPM should connect with the audience. Interestingly, he came up with his "toilet story" roaming the slums of Mumbai - the idea of a young boy looking at the multi-storey buildings and wondering how many loos there must be in each apartment. He counts and concludes, so many toilets for so few and not even one for so many in the slum. And he writes to the PM.
Be it sanitary pads or toilets or GST, the PM's messages are thus being effectively communicated through the film industry. And everybody who's perceived as a messenger, automatically gets labelled a Modi man. I'm not sure if Rakeysh Mehra is ready for or will attract that tag but Akshay has got it for sure. Also Amitabh Bachchan, once named by many as a presidential probable, who's getting expected flak from expected corners for endorsing the government's GST rollout. Is he the Centre's official brand ambassador for GST?
"I am out of the country," he replied, shooting in Malta for Thugs Of Hindostan . "I don't think I am any kind of ambassador," he went on. "GOI asked me to do a few ads, I did them." And then he added, "Done PRO BONO!!" in capital letters with a couple of exclamation marks. Message received, Mr Bachchan.
Bharathi S. Pradhan is a senior journalist and author