By Troy Ribeiro
Film: “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha”; Director: Shree Narayan Singh; Cast: Akshay Kumar, Bhumi Pednekar, Divyendu Sharma, Sudhir Pandey, Anupam Kher, Ayesha Raza Mishra, Rating: ***1/2
Vidya Balan is seen on television espousing the cause of toilets in the house for women, and now director Shree Narayan Singh’s “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha” too is flavoured with the slogan of Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan centring around the theme of constructing toilets in villages and in homes, particularly for the convenience and safety of women.
Keshav (Akshay Kumar), a 36-year-old village lad lives with his brother Naru (Divyendu Sharma) and father, Pandit (Sudhir Pandey) in Mathura and is longing to get married but cannot until he fulfils some customs as he is a Manglik and his father — a Pandit — will not budge.
Meanwhile, he falls in love with Jaya (Bhumi Pednekar) a much younger and well-educated girl and after some “jugaad”, he convinces his father and they get married.
Upon realising that she has to go to the field each morning along with other women in the village to relieve herself, Jaya puts her foot down and leaves Keshav’s home. Her condition of returning home is that there has to be a toilet in the house for her to use.
Keshav’s struggle to convince his father to build a toilet at home and the villagers to build toilets for public use, forms the crux of this two-and-a-half-hour-plus film.
Narrated in a linear manner, laced with humour, stellar performances, hard-hitting dialogues and good music, this film conveys the message with ease and is entertaining from word go. Never once does it get preachy or boring, even though the topic is so basic and mundane.
Writers Garima Wahal and Siddharth Singh have used clever puns (“Soch se parda hata kar sauch pe dhyan dena hai”), jocularity (“Yeh aurat hai dhoti nahin jo use sambhalna pade) and facts, to convey the essence of the film in a light-hearted manner. The script is water-tight and nowhere does it recourse to unnecessary digressions a la the Bollywood-esque.
Akshay Kumar excels as Keshav, the good-hearted, fun-loving but responsible village boy who is besotted with his wife. His camaraderie with his brother Naru is impeccable, as is his repartee with his old-fashioned father Pandit. As always, he delights the audience with his comic flair.
Equally heart-warming is the chemistry between Keshav and Jaya and it is a treat to watch the madly in love couple struggle to get together despite all odds.
Bhumi Pednekar’s transition from Jaya the confident, no-nonsense and articulate girl to the loving wife who stands for what is right is laudable. She is a natural before the camera and holds her own against Akshay Kumar and other veteran actors.
Divyendu Sharma as Naru, Keshav’s devoted brother and partner-in-crime is immensely endearing.
Sudhir Pandey as Pandit epitomises the backward thinking, regressive lot, steeped in age-old traditions, who do not want to adapt to or adopt progressive practices. His performance makes for delightful viewing.
Other supporting actors like Ayesha Raza Mishra as Jaya’s mother Vidya, Anupam Kher as Jaya’s grandfather and Shubha Khote as Keshav’s grandmother stand out even in their limited screen time.
The music by Vickey Prasad is one of the highlights of the film as it meshes well with the narrative and enhances the experience. “Hans mat pagli” is mellifluous and romantic, while “Bakheda” and “Gori tu lat maar” touch your heart.
Overall, “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha” is a sweet love story, well-told with socially relevant messages succinctly encapsulated with oodles of entertainment.