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10 reasons why ‘Toilet-Ek Prem Katha’ is not Worth the hype surrounding It

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Open defecation and lack of sanitation facilities is an acute social issue in India, especially in the rural areas. As per data, whopping 52% of rural India defecates in open. On a per capita GDP and population basis, this is much more than even Sub Saharan Africa. This is abysmal that even after 70 years of independence almost half of our people do not have toilets in their homes.

The recently released Akshay Kumar movie ‘Toilet-Ek Prem Katha’, as the name suggests, revolves around the issue of open defecation in the villages and the social factors that are responsible for it.

Akshay Kumar plays the role of a 36-year-old bachelor named Keshav in the movie who runs a cycle shop, along with his brother, in a village near Mathura. Keshav’s father is an orthodox, ultra conservative Brahmin who gets him married to a buffalo to ward off evil spells and then announces that he can only marry a girl who has a double thumb(or six fingers).

Keshav, whose age is passing, is visibly frustrated but he doesn’t mind it until one day he falls head-over-heels for Jaya(Bhumi Pednekar).

The love story starts with a scuffle between the two outside the toilet in a train and then culminates in marriage(typical boy meets girl, they fight, boy insists and wins the heart of his lady love).

Keshav, a matriculation pass, is the antithesis of Jaya, a college topper and an independent and fairly intelligent person. Keshav manages to woo Jaya and somehow convinces his father for marriage with Jaya. Had we not seen the trailer, we would have hoped that it would be happily ever after sort love story. But the next morning after tying the nuptial knot and taking the ‘Saath Phere’, Jaya is livid when told that there is no lavatory in the village and she will have to go to the farms, along with other village women, to take a dump.

Jaya leaves Keshav, moves back to her parents home, and to win her back Keshav takes it as a personal mission to construct toilets in his village. He knocks on every door and visits government offices for the same. Ultimately, like all Bollywood movies, toilets are constructed in the villages and the love of Keshav triumphs.

The storyline of the movie is definitely unconventional and Akshay’s serious acting, interspersed with a tinge of humour, is good. But the movie becomes a victim of its own image due to predictability and a hagiographic ode to the incumbent government.

Here are 10 points why the movie is not worth the hype around it:

1) We do not attempt to downplay the seriousness of ending open defecation and social activism for a change in the mindset of village folks, but ‘Toilet-Ek Prem Katha’ willingly forfeits its cinematic liberty and creative license to be a ruling party propaganda.

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2) The movie is dedicated to PM Modi’s much touted and hugely ambitious ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ and there is a hyper exaggeration to portray Modi Ji’s flagship scheme as a magic bullet and something even greater than Mahatma Gandhi emphasising on cleanliness and eradication of social malaises afflicting the nation.

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3) The movie sounds didactic and takes a sententious tone in the second half. The message that is given is: that people, not the government, are responsible for the lack of toilets. Sure, old regressive mindsets are a roadblock. But the movie attempts to not only absolve but glorify the government and put the entire onus on common citizens. We all know the state of public toilets in India, now who is to be blamed for that?

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4) The movie gives a very skewed and unrealistic idea by projecting open defecation as solely a women-centric problem and befitting a selfless “aadarsh” nationalist, Akshay says in the movie that women themselves are to be blamed if they do not have access to toilets. So, the government is the benefactor of us all, might is always right and it is the people who are at fault. The fault, Dear public, is in your stars, not in the angelic and unblemished regime!

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5) The movie blithely normalises stalking and pestering. Keshav clicks a picture of Jaya without her permission, and puts it on a poster in front of his cycle shop, of course without asking her. Because Bollywood has it ingrained in us that ‘Na Ka Matlab Haan’, and huh! asking for permission and consent is so sissy and unmanly. And certainly, that doesn’t go well with the macho image of ‘Khiladi Kumar’.

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6) There is a preposterous scene in the movie in which the character of the Uttar Pradesh CM says that I will lock all toilets in government offices so that government officials realise the importance of toilets and work doubly hard to build toilets. Not kidding! And what the CM cites as inspiration for his inventive idea is even more interesting. He invokes Notebandi(Demonetization) as a proof that locking toilets would lead to more toilets in rural areas. The causality is extremely difficult to fathom. But anyways, slow claps! For a moment I was left pondering that whether demonetization is enough, or the campaign to build toilets would also be compared with other slogans like Skill India, Make In India — Now this can actually be used, Make(toilets) in India.

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7) The movie lacks verve and what could have been a riveting dark comedy or trenchant social satire, turns into total PR of the government. Taking explicit political positions is ruinous for art. Politicised art degenerates into a travesty which is not even a shadow of its original self.

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8) The diagnosis of the disease – open defecation – is correct, but the movie offers no solutions, no systematic approach and nothing that can be followed on the grassroots level. Nothing except lavish praise of the system.

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9) Director Shree Narayan Singh tried to make a light hearted entertainer with a social message, but due to its overt political leanings, it looks not like a commercial movie but a documentary commissioned by the ruling party to highlight its successes in the next elections.

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10) After watching the movie, you may feel a sudden gush of nationalistic sentiments, but no, don’t let fudged data and simplistic narratives dupe you; it is primarily state’s task to build toilets.

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