This bride won’t budge. She’d rather not do it, thank you very much. Defecating in the bushes before the crack of dawn is not her thing. And so it takes a village, some revolution and the whole nation to build the woman a toilet.
Toilet: Ek Prem Katha succeeds on so many levels it is heartening, as capturing a social issue is always a challenge. It gets to the emotional core of a sticky problem and backs it up with a strong story, character and performances. The narrative is funny. Kudos to writers Siddharth Singh and Garima Wahal (who wrote Ram Leela, my other favourite) and director Shree Narayan Singh. For this reason, overt references to Gandhi, government and a certain PM can be ignored in the interest of greater goodness. The point did feel a tad stretched towards the end, nothing that a bit of editing couldn’t have fixed.
Open the door to this unlatched toilet then. Where a 36-year-old (ahem) Mangl-hic, married-to-a-cow bachelor Keshav (Akshay Kumar) accidentally encounters Jaya (Bhumi Pednekar) in a train. A series of chhed-chhad and some mandatory stalking (this should be banned on screen!) follow, they fall in love and are ready to walk the sacred pheras. Only there is a hitch, she must have an extra “hot” finger to ward off evil from the poor groom’s fate since his priest father (Sudhir Pandey) won’t budge. Both men are unaware of the fire that awaits them on the other end.
Radhe Radhe with Keshav’s jugaadu capabilities, the wedding is set in motion (!) followed by suhaag raat and they hope to live happily ever after. Only Jaya finds out she must be part of women’s LOTA party for her morning routine as they don’t have a toilet inside (or outside) the house. Hell hath no fury like a woman denied her pooh. And a father-in-law who is unable to let go of his ancestral beliefs. Keshav tries some more jugaad until they run out of steam.
Their marital boogie derailed, Jaya gets on a train back to her parental home. Just to add to their woes, the domestic battle also gathers fame and general wrath. The rest of the movie is pretty much about drawing a line in the sand and learning how a societal battle never seems important until it turns personal.
I didn’t mind the neatly packaged ending as the movie also delivers some punchy paisa vasool scenes including Jaya’s feiry sermon to a bunch of LOTA ladies on the perils of silence and Keshav’s war cry with “Iss desh ki aurtein khud apni izzat karna nahin jaanti“. Note one scene where Jaya is shown banging vessels, eventually telling off her adamant father-in-law in a lovely moment of frustration. Ditto when her grandfather and father admonish her mother for asking her to adjust for the sake of peace. The romantic moments are fun, the cycle banter, Jaya’s tickling proposal, the morning trips to the train and their clandestine night meetings during separation.
Anshuman Mahaley’s cinematography captures the rustic landscape and drama well. Siddharth-Garima pen some crackling dialogue throughout, keep it real yet fun. They also write lyrics for the subtle music. My favourite was Subah Ki Train both composed and rendered by Sachet Tandon and Parampara Thakur. Loved the clever situation and warm picturisation. Vickey Prasad composes the delicate Hans Mat Pagli (Sonu Nigam and Shreya Ghoshal) and the lively Bakheda (Sukhvinder Singh, Sunindhi Chauhan).
An ensemble of solid supporting cast provides the backbone a film of this nature requires. First up, a loud shout to Divyendu Sharma who plays Akshay’s brother Naru with great comic flair. The duo are a hoot together. Shobha Khote makes her presence felt in a miniscule appearance as Keshav’s daadi. Anupam Kher, Atul Srivastava and Ayesha Raza Mishra play Jaya’s supportive grandfather, father and mother. Rajesh Sharma makes for an entertaining politician. Sudhir Pandey is excellent, he gives his dogmatic character a caricaturish tone yet keeps it real. His first trip to the toilet in the end is hilarious.
Akshay Kumar has come a long way since his sexy Khiladi days and has been proudly holding the patriotic torch for Bollywood screens a few years now. He plays Keshav with utmost grace and sincerity, walking the fine line of balance. The actor is seamless in his journey here, starting off as a privileged male to an evolved one who joins his wife on her toilet crusade.
Bhumi Pednekar returns. Period. It is quite clear why she is in the film, no one else could have carried this off. Despite similarities to her crackling debut character in Dum Laga Ke Haisha, she shines bright-ly and big-ly as a lantern here as well. Her characteristic charm is evident as she effortlessly zooms from loving wife to fiery crusador with consummate ease. She is all heart and excellence.
What I love about this tale is it conveys an all-important message with simple humour and entertainment. It also never lets you forget that this is still reality in parts of India.
cinemaspotter rating: 4 out of 5