Rating : Good (3.7/5)
Genre : Drama
Year : 2017
Running time : 2 hours 35 minutes
Director : Shree Narayan Singh
Cast : Akshay Kumar, Bhumi Pednekar, Anupam Kher, Divyendu Sharma, Sudhir Pandey, Rajesh Sharma
Kid rating : PG
Toilet – Ek Prem Katha is a film about social values, and changing traditional mores and customs, however deep-rooted in “sanskriti” they might be. I quite liked it for the very novel effort it is, even though it had some rough edges.
Keshav is a not-very-well-read businessman, who at 36 is unmarried, because of his “Manglik” dosh, and because his religious, overly conservative “Pandit” father will only allow as his “bahu” a girl with 2 left thumbs (an extra thumb to negate said “Manglik” dosh). Keshav has almost all hope when he meets the lovely and well-read Jaya. Alas, she only has 1 left thumb! Not to be deterred, Keshav and Jaya soon “arrange” for a fake thumb and the nuptials take place.
Marital bliss is short-lived because Jaya soon discovers that her new husband’s home is sans toilet facilities. The people of the home (and most of the village) defecate in the open, and she as the new “bahuriya” is required to join the crack-of-dawn “lota-party” (“lota” is the Hindi word for the traditional steel vessel used to hold water).
Jaya sulks and fumes by turns, but her desire for an in-house lavatory are countered by her orthodox father-in-law’s strong objections, objections which consider it against culture to have the holy Tulsi plant and a lavatory in the same home. Things come to a head when Jaya leaves to go to her parent’s home, and once there, demands a divorce.
The rest of the film is about resolving this impasse. There is Jaya and her family on one hand, who are educated and supportive of the need for a hygenic toilet. On the other is Keshav’s dad, his family and almost the entire village, which pooh-poohs away Jaya’s demand as frivolous and the new-fangled “needs” of educated and (therefore) spoiled bratty young girls. The role of the village women is underscored here, as Jaya exhorts them to demand the same sanitation facilities, telling them that it is always the women who have to “adjust”, while the men twist and interpret “culture” to suit them (the men) and their needs.
On the surface this film seems to be about a basic need: the need for toilets. The film though goes deeper and questions the double standards that allow such a basic hygenic need to be ignored, and that brings in the question of women’s right and empowerment, as well as the questioning of the hypocritical “culture”. Our “sanskriti” or culture, as Keshav puts it ever so elegantly via filmi dialog, “requires that women’s faces remain covered (in ghoongat) but their backsides exposed“.
Toilet – Ek Prem Katha thus has a feminist message too, and it is all intertwined with the overall theme: cleanliness or swacchata in mind and body. Kudos to the filmmaker for taking this on (this also aligns nicely with Indian Prime Minister Modi’s swachchata campaign). The film pre-interval is a run-of-the-mill romance, and really gains steam in the second half. There is enough drama and humor here to keep things entertaining. Kumar and Pednekar have great chemistry, and the film is nicely paced everywhere but at the end, where, I imagine, the director ran out of ideas, and resorted to clichéd personality changes, with everyone seeing the light and turning up in their best behavior for a happy ending.
Despite the missteps, Toilet – Ek Prem Katha is a very nice film and well worth your time.
Kidwise: No overt vulgarity; some grown-up themes; fairly kid-safe.