At one point in Toilet Ek Prem Katha, you see officials of the central government’s Swachh Bharat Mission working spiritedly to help Keshav (Akshay Kumar), a villager, whose marriage is in peril. His wife is resolved to return to him only after he builds a toilet in his house. When a journalist asks Keshav if it was lack of political will that ruined his life, he replies, “Instead of blaming the system, why don’t we look into ourselves and correct our own mistakes.” In another instance, a chief minister in the film asks his men to lock up washrooms in government offices because that, like demonetisation, will make people realise the importance of building toilets.
Akshay Kumar is a clever man. He gives Vidya Balan’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan videos a commercial twist.
That Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is not a public service video is a disclaimer that the makers should have included in its opening credits. It displays an ardent loyalty towards the ruling government, and portrays village women as the flag-bearers of an important social movement, much like many of the short videos produced by the Film Division of India.
At one instance, you see Jaya (Bhumi Padnekar) buying spinning wool from eBay using a mobile app. She clicks a button here, a button there, and yes, the order is placed. Those who laughed at Narendra Modi when he said online cash transactions are quite easy and quick, should watch this film. There is another pivotal product placement scene, where Jaya, while applying Dettol on Keshav’s wound, explains to him the importance of modern medicines. “It’s alright. I will apply some mud and the wound will heal, ” he says, and she asks him to shut up.
Multi-national companies and the government work hand in hand in Toilet Ek Prem Kadha, to make the life of Keshav, a simpleton villager, better. The film might as well have ended with a shot of the government officials in Khadi kurta and shining formal wears smiling at the camera in the background, while Akshay Kumar telling the audience, “The government is with you in every step towards progress.”
Over anything else, the film looks amateurish, as if the makers were not bothered at all about the quality of visuals or the smoothness of the edit. The lighting and colours look uneven, and camerawork is jarring.
The relationship of Jaya and Keshav is, perhaps, the sole interesting part of this film. She is gutsy and sensible. He is a bachelor, closing in on forties. She is a state topper in board exams, he is a simpleton who would fall at the feet of anyone who can speak good English. He cooks and cleans the house without making a fuss about it. She loves books. Their first encounter is at the door of a toilet in a local train, and right from the morning after their wedding, toilet becomes a villain in their marital life. She refuses to defecate in the open field. He takes a while to understand why she is right about the need for a toilet. Together, they embark on a mission to reform the village.
Akshay Kumar’s performance is bad. He is self-assured, and comes with a lot of experience. Yet, his acting prowess has not seen any improvement over the years. Bhumi Padnekar effortlessly steals the show from him. She is energetic, and looks like someone from ordinary surroundings. In emotional scenes, it’s her restrained acting that distracts your attention from Kumar’s hyperbole cringe-worthy performance.
Unlike Kumar’s previous films like Airlift and Rustom, this film isn’t blatantly jingoistic. There are instances where Keshav takes on the stern upper-caste patriarchs of the village who place ‘sanskar‘ and ‘sanskriti‘ over basic things like sanitation. There is Jaya confidently talking back to her father-in-law who asks her to cover her hair.
At the same time, Toilet Ek Prem Katha’s take on patriarchy is a comfortable one. It doesn’t contest the age-old tradition of a woman having to leave her own house and settle for whatever her husband’s house has to offer. It places the whole responsibility of the nation’s welfare and sanitation on its women, pretty much like the old country saying, “If a woman goes astray, the community will go to dogs.”
Toilet Ek Prem Katha ends up as a forgettable drama that ignores the complexities of reality and reduces the subject of sanitation to the issue of open defecation. It doesn’t pose questions to those who deserves the most to be questioned. Its earnestness and concerns do not come across as genuine. And it is essentially a lazily-made mediocre film that doesn’t respect the art of film making.
The Toilet Ek Prem Katha review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.