In Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Keshav (Akshay Kumar) isn’t expected to build a monument like the Taj Mahal that a Mughal emperor had built for his beloved wife, but a utility-friendly toilet for his bride (Bhumi Pednekar) who refuses to defecate in the open fields like the other women in his village.
Understandably, the college topper doesn’t want to be a part of the ‘lota party’ — the village sorority who do their morning business by trekking to the open fields with a lota (spherical water vessel) at the crack of dawn. It’s a merry group of women, if you discard their sordid outputs aside.
So, do Kumar — who’s all heart as Keshav — and his on-screen wife Jaya, played by Pednekar, come out smelling like roses in a film that begins by lauding the work of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Clean India Mission?
The satire, which takes a nick at the unholy, but prevalent practice of open defecation in India, comes across as a star-driven propaganda vehicle.
The second half was decidedly a crash course on the existing government’s noble attempts at providing toilets across India and to highlight the narrow-mindedness among Indians who are shackled by cultural and religious beliefs.
But don’t give up on this film yet, because it has some golden moments scattered across it.
The film starts on a promising note where we see a rakish Keshav, who runs a cycle store, being wed to a buffalo under the directions of his pious and conservative father. The animal will offset the misaligned stars, such is the belief.
Director Sree Narayan Singh has a superb knack of shrouding grim social scenarios and regressive traditions with wry humour.
Providing the verve to his vision is the urbane Kumar and Pednekar who do a splendid job of playing small-towners. It is Pednekar’s second film and she has an impressive command over her role as a feisty rebel.
Since it begins as a love story, a lot depends on their chemistry and they don’t disappoint. They are charming as a couple and their romantic escapades are endearing. It may be a bit disconcerting to see 49-year-old Kumar play a bachelor who is 36 and being smitten by a twenty-something woman, but since the actor is age-defying he seems to pull off the role. Even the bits where he follows her relentlessly is a questionable way of courtship, but Kumar manages to make it less creepy with his charismatic on-screen presence.
The first half is smooth, but it’s the second half that gets constipated. The premise which is intriguing and novel becomes repetitive and laboured. Some of the scenes in the second half seems contrived to make the current government shine and sparkle. Keshav and Jaya’s domestic problem snowballs into such a stinker of an issue that the entire state seems to be involved towards the end. There’s a good chance that you may have lost interest and your steam by all that drama surrounding a toilet-building battle.
Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, which clocks 175 minutes, would have benefited from tighter editing and fewer number of songs that showcase courtship, heartbreak and divorce.
Actors Sudhir Pandey (who plays the inflexible, traditionalist dad), Divyendu Sharma (Keshav’s jovial brother) and Anupam Kher (the naughty granddad with a penchant for watching raunchy Bollywood songs) complement the lead pair.
While the intention of this film is noble and should be lauded, the love story gets lost in the din of indoctrinating the glorious Indian government’s honourable campaign. Watch this if you are in the mood to witness earnest acting performances, but if you are looking for a propaganda-free film, then this is not it.
Don’t miss it
Film: Toilet: Ek Prem Katha
Language: Hindi with English subtitles
Time: 175 minutes
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Bhumi Pednekar, Sudhir Pandey
Stars: 2.5 out of 5