The shifts in the mentality of the lead hero and his entire village in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha starts with the lead actress fighting with her husband over her basic rights
The fact that it takes 70 years of independence to talk about the longstanding issue of open defecation and public sanitation in India in a romantic comedy drama is appalling. Yet the discussion happening on this socially relevant issue and that an attempt to raise awareness about the hush-hush issue has finally taken place in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is a good sign. Probably in the wake of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, the launch of this movie could be more plausible and encouraging. The movie does highlight PM’s campaign and its concerns for public sanitation and hygiene, and bases its inspiration in his idea of a clean and sanitized country.
The film, however, delves in certain paradoxes: One, though it talks about the dignity and safety of women being hampered in open defecation methods that need them to travel outside of the village in the dark of the night or the wee hours of morning in what has been termed ‘lota party’ in the movie, on the other hand the safety and dignity of the lead female character, Jaya (Bhumi Pednekar) is compromised when she is being stalked and secretly captured on camera by the lead hero opposite her, Keshav (Akshay Kumar).
Secondly, the movie normalizes the age difference between the two lead actors and also the fact that a highly-educated woman can fall for a man with elementary school education who runs his father’s cycle shop and has no aspirations for the future except for following his father’s orders based on ancient and archaic traditions that he proudly presents as India’s culture and religion.
The stark contrast in the duo’s ideas about love, relationship, stalking and photographing women without their knowledge is clear in the first half of the movie, yet they are shown to marry each other because apparently, the genuine honesty that Keshav displays when he confesses that despite his age, he could be the romance Jaya is looking for, is enough for their wedlock.
But the real problem begins after marriage. While Keshav is initially shown to waive off Jaya’s demands and complaints on her having to join the lota party for defecating amid tall bushes in the dense forests, he does his best to find out a way or as he calls it ‘jugaad’ for Jaya’s convenience. However, it is only when Jaya willingly leaves her husband’s home and doesn’t give away to her mother and the villagers’ constant nagging of ‘she should have adjusted and never left her husband’s home in the first place’, does Keshav realize the gravity of Jaya’s demands and what he and Jaya are up against – the traditional customs, rituals and beliefs of orthodox villagers who would like to witness a woman suffering an everyday ordeal and shame, failing to understand that she loses her self-respect, dignity and value for her husband and in-laws in the process, but they will not compromise on their interpretations of the religious values that they uphold so strongly.
In what follows is a more than an hour’s struggle between Keshav’s realism and the villagers’ blind faith in their panchayat’s misinterpretation of religious texts.
What is believable is the fact that this constant fight against orthodoxy and narrow-mindedness leads to a fallout between the lead pair and how the two cope with the unpleasant situation and their plans to overcome it. The comic timing of brothers Keshav and Naru (Divyendu Sharma) in the movie adds to its entertainment factor while Sudhir Pandey plays quite the ‘orthodox’ and ‘strict’ father to the brothers and the rigid father-in-law to Jaya.
Akshay Kumar has further brought out the ethos of his movie through his Instagram post where he posted images of 24 toilets that have been built in smaller villages across the country as a part of a campaign.
Meanwhile, some poignant dialogues of the film have garnered rave reviews and critical acclaims alike. The movie has reportedly been a success at the box office as it has gathered about 88 crore rupees within six days of its release on August 11, 2017.
Photo Credits: Toilet: Ek Prem Katha‘s official Twitter page and Youtube