Akshay Kumar is easily one of the biggest actors in Bollywood that continues to push boundaries with his work. While not all of his films are super hit successes, one can't accuse the guy of being successful by repeating the same formula over and over. His next movie, 'Toilet: Ek Prem Katha' is probably the farthest from a formula imaginable.
Akshay Kumar's 'Toilet: Ek Prem Katha' brings up an issue that many outside of India may not know exists.
Like every Bollywood movie, this one is a love story. But with a weird twist. The trailer shows us a man whose Zodiac is not ideal for marriage. Because that's a thing that Hindus believe in. The astrologist must analyze and approve of one's horoscope to deem them worthy of marriage.(A similar premise can be seen in 'Phillauri') Akshay Kumar is not worthy at all. However, his luck changes when he meets Bhumi Pednekar and love ensues.
The first half of the trailer is very typical, with a cute-meet, what look like interesting song sequences and eventual marriage. Good times for all. The twist comes after, and all in all, it may be a shocking one for Non Resident Indian audiences.
A Crappy Situation
After her first night with her new husband, Pednekar realizes that the village she's married into, has no toilets. The women have to wait for darkness to march into the woods with... bowls (?) to... do their business. Yep. Padnekar's character is probably about as shocked at this as you are at this point.
The village has no toilets. Apparently it's an accepted thing about how impure it is to do potty in the same house as where one prays and so on. The issue seems to stem from as much cultural and religious reasons, as well, I'm sure, a lack of infrastructure in rural areas. It seems like Pednekar's character is from the city, probably a bit more educated and westernized than the inhabitants of the village. So she has, let's say a problem, with this situation. She's having none of it!
This becomes a deal breaker in her marriage to Kumar, and then the Trailer takes an even weirder turn. The film is, seemingly, about one man's crusade to build a toilet in his village, so he may reunite with his wife. A crapper of love! In essense.
A Little Background On Open Defecation In India
So, this is a thing. There are certain parts of India that don't have the necessary plumbing or infrastructure to provide their inhabitants with toilets. So Open Defecation, is quite literally a thing that happens in those parts. There's many repercussions to this, only some of which are unsafe and unhygienic. The lack of proper bathroom facilities for women also cause some girls to abandon their education. It's an actual issue in India.
Currently there is a national movement implemented by the current Prime Minister of India, Narenda Modi, that plans for a cleaner and Open Defection-less country. The movement is known as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. (Clean India Movement) The initiative sees the PM, partner with many famous celebrities of the country to bring bathrooms and other facilities to these areas of India, to eliminate these... poop fields... and literally clean up the country.
The Most Elaborate PSA Ever!
The movie itself seems to be conveying the message behind this movement to the public of India (and abroad, apparently) in a way that is most accessible to Indians. Although it may be completely jarring and foreign to audiences outside the country, who may not be aware of this issue. Unless the makers give the necessary background within the film.
Centering such an important message in such a typically commercial film with a popular actor, mainstream song sequences, a story that revolves around going to the bathroom made into a genre that is loved by all, may seem unnecessarily elaborate for any social issue. But it's also one of the most guaranteed ways to get a message across to the public of India. Despite social standing, education, location or means... movies can be considered the national past time of India, second only to Cricket.
Issue based films rarely do well due to their preachy-ness, but Akshay Kumar movies are more entertaining than anything else, and he is more commonly associate as the common man's actor than any other popular actor in Bollywood.
The Man & Woman In The Hot Seat
'Toilet: Ek Prem Katha' looks as amazingly ridiculous as it does hilarious. The movie's premise is so silly that it may actually work, in a half baked way. Obviously there are practical complications in building a toilet where there is no infrastructure for one. Kumar's character has to brave social perceptions, political red tape and other obstacles in other to bring back his love, with a toilet. Which is something only Kumar can realistically sell.
Love his movies or hate them, Kumar never phones in his performances. He gives each movie his all and it doesn't seem to be any different here. If anyone can sell this goofy of a concept genuinely, Akshay Kumar is definitely the guy for it! His pivots from deadpan deliveries, to dumb witted and intensely dramatic is something many actors are incapable of doing with ease.
I loved Pednekar's debut film, 'Dum Laga Ke Haisha'. I'm not sure how I feel about her losing all that weight drastically after she came into the public limelight of Bollywood. However, her first film after her debut doesn't seem to be negatively exploiting that aspect of her abilities, so I guess I can't be too upset?
'Toilet: Ek Prem Katha' is directed by Shree Narayan Singh, a relative newcomer but an veteran editor from the Neeraj Pandey camp of associates. Pandey and Kumar have worked on many films together, so Singh must be a guy Kumar trusts enough to do this kind of a movie with.
'Toilet: Ek Prem Katha' releases August 11th, 2017.