From being an actor who would churn out four to five comedies or actioners every year, Akshay Kumar has slowly but surely managed to please a certain section of the audience who did not take him seriously as an actor. In the last couple of years, along with doing the ‘Housefull’ franchise, Akshay Kumar has made an effort to step out of his comfort zone and do films that reach out the kind of audience that does not necessarily enjoy his potboilers. His association with writer/producer/director Neeraj Pandey, has been quite fruitful what with two of the films directed by Pandey (‘Special 26’ and ‘Baby’) and one co-produced by him (‘Rustom’) has helped him garner a lot of acclaim, including winning a National Award, as an actor. Kumar teams up with Pandey yet again for ‘Toilet Ek Prem Katha’, a film that aims to make the audience aware of the problems arising out of lack of sanitation facilities in many parts of the country.
Keshav (Akshay Kumar), a 36 year old man living in a small town called Mandgaon, gets married to a buffalo to get rid of mangal dosh. Keshav comes from an ultra-orthodox family and the fact that his father (Sudhir Pandey) is adamant on him getting married to a woman who has a sixth finger on one of her hands. This, he believes, would be the final step towards him waiving off the dosh. Keshav meets the spirited and outspoken Jaya (Bhumi Pednekar) in a train and gets infatuated with her. While she does not show interest in him initially, she eventually ends up falling in love with him too. Keshav and Jaya get married. Jaya, who is far more evolved and liberal, than most people in the town, is shocked to find out that Keshav does not have a bathroom in their house. A group of women ask her to join their ‘lota party’ and defecate in the open fields on the outskirts of the town. She informs Keshav that she does not approve of this practice and would like to have a bathroom in their house.
Shree Narayan Singh, who has served as an editor on quite a few prominent films including the ones directed by Neeraj Pandey, made his directorial debut with a forgettable film called ‘Yeh Jo Hai Mohabbat’ a couple of years back. Just like Neeraj Pandey gave Tinu Suresh Desai gave a new lease of life with ‘Rustom’ after he had directed ‘1920 London’, he came into his own with the Akshay Kumar that went on to become a good commercial success. Writers Siddharth and Garima who have dabbled in different genres (‘Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela’, ‘Raabta’) dive deep into the heartland of Uttar Pradesh to pick out different cultural references and leave no stone unturned to help the director bring the rustic milieu on the screen as authentically as possible. While dealing with the problem of open defecation and the taboo associated installing sanitation facilities in certain parts of the country, they sporadically touch upon several other issues that are prevalent in the small towns or villages of India. Caste discrimination, superstition, gender inequality – all these issues have been incorporated nicely in the film. Humour plays an important part in the screenplay. Even though the film deals with a serious and relevant issue, several well-written scenes and dialogues make you break into a chuckle. The humour is not forced in the film, rather most of it fits in organically with different situations in the film.
The film serves entertainment in large doses and makes us aware (or more aware) of several issues but there are times when you feel the storyline is unnecessarily stretched and the duration could have been shorter. Keshav and Jaya’s love story has some interesting moments, like the one in which Keshav gets a fake finger made for Jaya, so that his father would approve of the marriage. But, overall, pre-marriage romance does not really register a huge impact. It should have been shorter and the film should have come to the main conflict sooner. The film also goes through a few bumps in the second half which slows down its pace.
Akshay Kumar is quite natural as the slightly uncouth but essentially good natured Keshav who evolves gradually. His character reminds one of Badrinath (Varun Dhawan) who went through a similar process of self-discovery during the course of the film. Bhumi Pednekar, who has lost oodles of weight post her debut film, puts on a superlative act just as she did with her first film. It is a delight to see Divyenndu play a substantial role in a film after a while. The hugely underrated actor who started off with some sterling performances in ‘Pyaar Ka Punchnama’ and ‘Chashme Baddoor’ should be seen much more. Sudhir Pandey is very good as Keshav’s ultra-conservative father. Anupam Kher has a brief role but makes his presence felt as the mischievous Kaka.
Despite being a free country and laying its claim on being the world’s largest democracy, India continues to remain a country where orthodox customs and people with regressive mindset stop it from becoming the kind of progressive and modern nation it should have been today. People remain blinded by ultra-orthodox ideologies and vague superstitions that hinder the country’s progress. A person residing in a city would probably find it hard to believe that people in small towns and villages refuse to have a bathroom in their house as they feel it will pollute the household. No matter how unfathomable it may seem, that is something that happens in several parts of the country. ‘Toilet Ek Prem Katha’ deals with an issue that exists at the grass-root level and makes you realize how important it is to eradicate it to move towards a cleaner, safer and prosperous India.