Toilet-Ek Prem Katha: An advertisement for Swachh Bharat Abhiyan

The irony is that government departments are shown as corrupt but the government is defended at every point. Instead, previous governments are blamed for lack of sanitation

Photo courtesy: Social Media
Photo courtesy: Social Media
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Pragati Saxena

There is a funny one liner doing the rounds in the social media: Isse achche din aur kya aayenge, log saj dhaj kar ‘toilet’ jaa rahe hain! (Can there be better days than these, people are going to ‘toilet’ dressed up nicely!)

Now, this witty one liner carries a serious statement too. A film on the issue of sanitation, which was rubbished by almost every critic, has done well in the box office in its opening days. It reiterates clearly that whatever is popular, may not necessarily be good and meaningful. This is true of our contemporary socio-political scenario.

The long and well planned publicity of the film Toilet-ek prem katha,(what kind of a title is it?) had raised many hopes because it was constantly hyped that the film is based on a real life story. Well, the only real life story in the film can be summarised in one sentence. A newly married woman leaves her husband’s house because there is no toilet in it. Period.

The filmi story of course is the heroic struggle of the husband to get a toilet made in his house, thereby highlighting the issue of open defecation and sanitation. This in itself is a great topic for a film with a social message. But hammering it down on people is not the way audiences lap up an idea though they might clap at loud and dramatic dialogues.

Well, it’s about the love story too. The hero so hopelessly in love keeps pursuing the heroine till she says ‘yes’ (God knows when our film industry will understand that this pursuing is stalking and if a girl says ‘no’ the hero or any character should step back. Come to think of it, if there were no toilet in the film, it could well have been a film on stalking!)

It is sad. Akshay and Bhumi Pednekar both are good actors and Akshay has a very impressive screen presence, but they have been so taken in by the message of Pradhan Mantri’s Swachch Bharat Abhiyan’ that their potential has been reduced to jarring dialogues, ridiculous situations and the film to a long-drawn advertisement of the government’s cleanliness mission.

The irony is that government departments are shown as corrupt but the government is defended at every point. Instead previous governments are blamed for lack of sanitation. Even media is ridiculed when a journalist raises a question- isn’t government responsible if the people have no other option but to go for open defecation? The protagonist comes across more as the government’s brand ambassador than a distressed husband desperate to bring his wife home. The message for sanitation dilutes to a simplified one liner- constructing toilets is more of citizens’ responsibility than the government’s.

The real issues of grappling with people’s mindset about having toilets at home, the superstitions related to it, lack of funds get side tracked. Apparently, the director has no idea that in rural India, survival amid poverty, drought, hunger and unending burden of loans is far more important.

However, the music of the film is a little relief from the loud preaching for a social message and stalking for romanticism.

In all, the film which promised to be a good one with a serious social message and a good story line is just a bland an awkward fusion of some catchy dialogues and a patchwork of comic relief. But since even empty loud and catchy phrases have an effect (as can be understood by PM Modi’s popularity), the film has also done well on box office.

Films after all, are a reflection of our socio economic and political set up.

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Published: 20 Aug 2017, 8:21 AM