If there is a more convoluted way to hammer home the message that a house needs an attached toilet, we don’t want to know.
Keshav (Akshay Kumar) is not yet married because his orthodox priest father (Sudhir Pandey) has put forth a list of demands for the kind of daughter-in-law he wants, one of which is that she must have six fingers “like Hrithik Roshan”.
Rather than slipping a toxic substance into his father’s tea, Keshav puts up with the situation, but loses his resolve when he meets Jaya (Bhumi Pednekar). Her firebrand ways impress him, and a wedding takes place by hoodwinking the father in the matter of the six fingers. But the real scam, as Jaya discovers, is that Keshav’s house doesn’t have an attached toilet. Unable to relieve herself in the fields like the rest of the village women, she walks out.
Keshav is initially unmoved, but his love for Jaya makes him realise that she might have a point after all. He sets out to convert his father and the rest of the village towards the cause of building toilets and contributing to the Swachh Bharat programme. There’s a moment when he seems to have won his battle, but writers Siddharth-Garima and director Shree Narayan Singh are not going to let off of their mission so easily. They throw in corruption, a belated women’s movement, further plot twists and the hyperbolic declaration that “The government will fall over a toilet” before finally bringing the earnest and preachy narrative to a welcome halt.
In between, they even sneak in a plug for the prime minister and demonetisation. What’s next? Aadhaar: Ek Prem Kahani?
Perhaps only the Harold & Kumar movies have been as obsessed with bowel movement. Keshav and Jaya first meet outside a bathroom; conversations are peppered with references to digestive processes; the Hindi dictionary is raided for synonyms for toilets.
The romance between Keshav and Jaya is supposed to leaven the overall heaviness, but it has its own set of problems. Jaya is less firecracker and more damp squib. Despite claiming to be an independent-spirited and intelligent woman, she lets Keshav do all the talking, thinking and theorising. When Keshav uses her photograph for an advertising banner for his cycle company without her consent, she is outraged for precisely a few seconds. Jaya is described as a “topper”, but for all her education, she declares that “women are the worst enemies of women” and that women are to blame for relieving themselves in the open.
Since Keshav is played by Akshay Kumar, there is a lot of stake here for the character and the movie star. Both must show that they are in charge, and Kumar is up for the challenge. He turns on his charm in the romantic bits and launches into nation-saving mode in the preachy scenes. Keshav is an extension of Kumar’s character in Jolly LLB 2, but without the shading and the emotional arc.
The rest of the cast play their part in hauling the propaganda juggernaut to its destination, and none of them stick. Toilet: Ek Prem Katha pans out exactly like a public service announcement video produced by Swachh Bharat Abhiyan: it demands attention because of the seriousness of the subject, but makes little effort to engage its intended recipients. Packed with speeches and diatribes, debates over the scriptures, and advertising taglines masquerading as dialogue, the movie proves that overt propaganda can never be confused for entertainment.