Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is perhaps the world’s first love story to hinge entirely around a toilet. In a country where more people have access to mobile phones than loos, the subject is important and relevant. Inspired by true incidents, it’s also compelling material for cinema – a girl walks out of her loving husband’s home because it doesn’t have a bathroom. It’s wonderful that Akshay Kumar and Neeraj Pandey have put their might behind this unique and powerful story. Sadly, the film that has emerged doesn’t do justice to the cause or the good intentions.
Admittedly, director Shree Narayan Singh and writers Siddharth Singh and Garima Wahal have a tough task – they have to wrap an inherently icky topic with enough entertainment to make it palatable. This is a film on defecation. We begin with the Lota party – a group of women going into the field at the crack of dawn. Almost every scene has a reference to toilet, sauch, sandas. How do you get people to sit through it?
Humour is an obvious recourse. The best lines come from Divyendu Sharma who plays younger brother to Akshay Kumar’s Keshav. With a cheery presence and deft comic timing, Divyendu adds much needed lightness to a film borne down by its own weight.
The first half features a somewhat weird love story between Keshav and Jaya, played nicely by Bhumi Pednekar. First he stalks her and then she stalks him. There’s a drawn out sub-plot about how they fool Keshav’s superstitious father and marry. We are told that Keshav is 36 years old, which is also a bit of a stretch. But the various threads keep you hooked. And Shree manages to make Keshav walking Jaya to the fields in the morning genuinely romantic. He even sweetly wishes her good luck.
The film has largely been shot on location in and around Mathura. The look and feel is authentic. Shree is too fond of top shots but he gets the textures of small town UP. Akshay and Bhumi play off each other nicely – Jaya is tough and smart. Keshav is laidback and a bit of a wuss – especially when it comes to confronting his unreasonable father. But underneath the timidity is a strong man who wants to empower and support his wife.
But once Keshav’s confrontation gathers steam, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha wobbles. The second half becomes a litany of lectures, brazen plugs for the government, tedious song sequences, a 3000-crore toilet scam and an inexplicable change of heart. The women who once mocked Jaya suddenly decide that they have had enough of their gossip and Lota party. Everything is stitched together hurriedly. There is too much preaching and not enough punch. At over two and a half hours, it’s too long and not very satisfying.
I must repeat that it’s refreshing to see Hindi cinema tackle such challenging subjects. But a film has to work as a film. This one does, in fits and starts. I’m going with two and a half stars.