Written by Manisha Lakhe
Akshay Ke Liye Prem.
Lekin Government Propaganda Katha Stinks
Jaya and Keshav fall in love. And when the bride comes home she discovers that she has to go with the ‘lota paltan’ to crap in the farms before the sun rises. There is no toilet in the house, because tradition dictates you defecate out in the open. Bride rebels, leaves home. The groom is humiliated, but understands and moves mountains of paperwork and government red tape to get public toilets installed in the village.
Based On A True Story. But Why Bollywood?
An out and out propaganda film, this Bollywood offering attempts to tackle a serious issue of hygiene and open defecation by taking a real life story and dramatising it. A bride actually left her marital home because she discovered they did not have toilets.
One hour into the movie, you begin to wonder how much more romance you are going to see between Keshav (played by a very earnest Akshay Kumar) and Jaya (Bhoomi Pednekar, very empathetic and beautiful). Akshay Kumar manages to earn an ‘awwww!’ from the audience because his Keshav is just such a nice guy. His moustache droops when he’s sad, and supports his grin when he’s happy. That’s an achievement. His romance with the liquid eyed Bhoomi Pednekar is sweet.
And we would not mind the happy couple if it weren’t for the ever present third wheel: Keshav’s younger brother played by Divyendu Sharma, who is so over the top villager, so grating on the senses (not only because he’s shown to be watching ‘Balam Pichkari’ on the phone all the time) that villagers should cover him up with a blanket and throw him in the middle of a herd of stampeding cows for saying ‘Mallika Bhabhi’ to the cow and ‘milk’ in the same sentence again and again.
The Government’s Problem Is Very Real
It’s a reality that village women are not safe any more. They get attacked by wild animals and are bitten by snakes and scorpions when they defecate in the open. Women and young girls have been raped and then hung to die when they have stepped out into the woods to relieve themselves by men. Young men take pictures with their phones of women defecating, their heads covered, but arses visible to everyone. But is this film an answer?
The government both at the center and at the state level is trying and failing because, the film says, ‘woh logon ki soch nahi badal sake’. The hero tries everything for his new bride. He even takes her on the motorbike to the train, which stops for seven minutes and she can finish her business. But it doesn’t answer the question: what do you do when you have to go during the day?
Crammed Second Half
It is in the second half of the film where the story actually takes off. Jaya forces his hand. She knows, this ‘jugaad’ of going to the train every day will not work. She leaves him. The filmmakers then speed up the film because they have to make the story work. The hero needs to believe that hygiene and safety are important and have a change of heart, then the father of the hero (played without a fault by Sudhir Pandey) needs to change, the villagers need to understand. The hero goes to the municipal authorities who need to change their attitude about providing toilets to the villages. The hero’s father needs to see why they need a toilet installed at home, the old granny needs to see the same, the family of the heroine need to show support to her cause, her mother needs to change her mindset…
So many things are crammed into the second half of the film you just watch it. Untouched. You realise that you have watched all this without even cringing at papa’s pee on beta’s cheek. You have no empathy when the village women come marching into courts demanding ‘saamohik divorce’ (mass divorce) from their husbands if they don’t get toilets installed. It’s just not believable.
The need of the hour is providing public toilets and teaching the masses to use these toilets instead of defecating and polluting rivers and ponds. But is this film any more than the filmmakers genuflecting to the government? Paying deep obeisance to the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India campaign)? That sort of stinks, methinks.