TOILET: EK PREM KATHA (U/A)
Director: Shree Narayan Singh
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Bhumi Pednekar, Anupam Kher, Sudhir Pandey, Divyendu Sharma
Running time: 161 minutes
When you stretch what should be — and what already is — a 30-second TV spot into a full-length feature film, you are asking for trouble. Toilet: Ek Prem Katha has all the “good intentions”, unless of course you look at the film as a two-and-a-half-hour glorification of the ruling government, but only good intentions don’t make good films.
The “prem katha” in Shree Narayan Singh’s Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is actually bearable even though that too is way stretched. Keshav (Akshay Kumar) is the Pandit’s (Sudhir Pandey) son in a village named Mandgaon in the Mathura region of Uttar Pradesh. He sells bicycles and his new customer is Jaya (Bhumi Pednekar) from a neighbouring village. She is a college topper having done a course in agriculture with some Japanese connection that is never made clear and never comes to any use.
While his father seems to be the flag bearer of everything sanskari, deeply invested in every regressive ritual including marrying his manglik son to a buffalo, her father and uncle cannot get over Sunny Leone’s Babydoll moves. Yes clearly this is a match made in heaven, meant for the toilet.
The film promoting Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan promotes stalking as well. Keshav moves around on his bike trying to catch Jaya’s attention — now where have we read about that before? — even though she had made it very clear that she’s not into older men. [Keshav is shown as 36, while Akshay will be 50 next month.] Anyway, one charged monologue later, she is willing to stick a fake thumb to her left hand — two thumbs side by side is the kundali call for Keshav — to marry him.
All this happens for around an hour including a couple of forgettable songs, and the moment Jaya rebels against joining the “Lota Party” — all the women of the village making the long walk every morning to the fields — you hope you have a film on your hands. But things get many times worse as her demand for a toilet in the house leads to one boring episode after the other — involving panchayats and government offices — and then it is looped away till you want to run to the toilet yourself.
Somewhere there is the constant projection that the government has been doing its bit but it is the villagers and their backward mindset that have stopped toilets from reach the rural regions. Despite the writers’ (Siddharth-Garima) best attempts to hide it, the film soon becomes an unending exaltation of the Modi government’s cleanliness mission. And once that stench comes through, it’s difficult to take the film or the characters at face value.
Akshay is as usual earnest, although there is often a streak of confusion in his performance — and in the treatment of the film as a whole — about the loudness levels of the comedy. He does look a touch too senior for Bhumi and continues to shout his way out of the emotional scenes.
Bhumi, who had really impressed in Dum Laga Ke Haisha, has lost a lot of weight but not an iota of her charm. She is excellent as the feisty Jaya who is ready to take on her husband and the world for her toilet. She steals the thunder from Akshay in almost every scene they have together and is clearly one of the only reasons you should give this film a chance.
The songs by Vickey Prasad, Manas-Shikhar and Sachet-Parampara are major roadblocks and unnecessarily add to the length of the film. At 161 minutes this is one long — and mostly tedious — loo trip.
“Jahaan soch wahaan shauchalay” is the tagline of the telly campaign and it is the same thought — Indian villages don’t have toilets because they are not thinking right — that the film takes forward. But more than choice, it is compulsion that has millions of people in towns and villages still traveling miles daily to clear their bowels.
This Toilet clearly reeks of propaganda. You may pay a visit for the prem katha but then you’ll have a lot of flushing to do thereafter.
Pratim D. Gupta