A new bride threatens to leave her husband unless he installs a toilet in their home. In order to win her love and respect back, he confronts a culture that puts traditional beliefs ahead of modern necessities.
This is the plot of Akshay Kumar's social satire film Toilet: Ek Prem Katha ("Toilet: A Love Story").
Toilet: The Film
The film begins with a lighthearted look at the ongoing challenges faced by Keshav (Akshay Kumar) and his brother Naru (Divyendu Sharma) who work at a bicycle shop under the domineering eye of their father "Panditji" (Sudhir Pandey) who embraces many old-fashioned practices.
When Keshav meets the educated and outspoken Jaya Joshi (Bhumi Pednekar) he is instantly drawn to her intelligence and firecracker personality. They soon begin a thoroughly modern romance but face a tough road to matrimony. Paditji's unrealistic requirements for a daughter-in-law force Keshav and Jaya to play-along with his conditions.
But when Jaya discovers there is no toilet in the house or village, she goes ballistic. She learns that the men defecate whenever and wherever they please while the "Lota Party" of ladies must take a long walk to the fields before sunrise and after sunset to relieve their bladders and bowels in.
Keshav seeks to find a solution to the problem, but only identifies quick fixes which eventually pushes Jaya to the edge of divorce. Keshav is forced to lean in and confront the government, village leaders, and his own father to find a way to bring toilets to town.
At this point, the film turns morphs slightly from comedy into docudrama for there is no one villain in the film, but a variety of issues involving multiple players that have standardized sub-standard sanitation in small towns.
One of the most powerful moments comes when Jaya's uncle Kakka (Anupam Kher) confronts Keshav's father and says, "If you change nothing, nothing will change." Ultimately, change is what Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is all about. It takes a huge issue and narrates a very personal story about the need for change - then offers a roadmap to make it happen.
As part of the lead-up to the release of the film, Akshay Kumar released the fun "Toilet Ka Jugaad" video song. Joining singer Vickey Prasad, Akshay sings on the track and his voice gives the song an entertaining earthiness. According to Bollynook, the Punjabi slang term "jugaad" describes a creative or innovative idea providing a quick, alternative way of solving or fixing a problem. The song questions the reasons behind open defecation and encourages action with the chorus, "So brother quickly make arrangements for a toilet."
For those of us in the west who are used to ease of access to well-maintained toilet facilities, the film is an eye-opener. It also offers an opportunity to learn how India is actively tackling this important issue.
Toilet: The Issue
In Prime Minister Narendra Modi's August 2014 Independence Day speech, he explained,
“Brother and Sisters, we are living in 21st century. Has it ever pained us that our mothers and sisters have to defecate in open? Whether dignity of women is not our collective responsibility? The poor womenfolk of the village wait for the night; until darkness descends, they can`t go out to defecate. What bodily torture they must be feeling, how many diseases that act might engender. Can`t we just make arrangements for toilets for the dignity of our mothers and sisters?"
According to the filmmakers, India leads the world in open defecation.
- 60% of the people in the world not exposed to toilet facilities are in India.
- Due to lack of toilets, nearly 564 million Indians defecate in the open in fields, forests, bushes, bodies of water or other open spaces.
- Each year 200 thousand Indian children die of infections caused by open defecation.
- Millions of women risk getting raped everyday. According to UNICEF, 50% of the rape cases which take place in India happen when women defecate in the open.
In October 2014, Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan ("Clean India Mission") campaign to reduce or eliminate open defecation through the construction of individual, cluster and community toilets. India set a goal to achieve an Open-Defecation Free (ODF) India by 2 October 2019, the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi. According to the Wall Street Journal, Gandhi recognized the sanctity of proper sanitation. In May 1925, the father of modern India wrote:
“I learnt 35 years ago that a lavatory must be as clean as a drawing-room. I learnt this in the West ... The cause of many of our diseases is the condition of our lavatories and our bad habit of disposing of excreta anywhere and everywhere. I, therefore, believe in the absolute necessity of a clean place for answering the call of nature and clean articles for use at the time.”
To achieve the goals of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the country plans to construct 12 million toilets in rural India at a projected cost of INR 1.96 lakh Crore (US$30 billion). You can track the progress of this goal at sbm.gov.in/sbmdashboard.
Good effort to further the message of cleanliness. 125 crore Indians have to continue working together to create a Swachh Bharat. https://t.co/C0XKPpguW7— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 12, 2017
As a contribution to the Swachh Bharat movement, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha offers a commercial film that helps open the conversation about the issue that Akshay Kumar hopes helps change mindsets. In an interview with NTV Telugu, Akshay Kumar explained:
"Fifty-four percent of India doesn't have toilets. There are some people who cannot afford it. That's sad. The government is doing quite a lot about this. But there are some people who don't have the mindset. That is the bad part. That is the saddest part. They don't have the mindset to make toilets because they believe you cannot have toilets where you have food. They have the Internet and all but they don't have toilets."
Toilet: The Campaign
In May 2017, Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan and Anushka Sharma helped launch India's Darwaza Band ("Behind Closed Doors") campaign as part of the Clean India Movement. The campaign seeks to promote toilet use and freedom from open defecation across the country's villages.
Amitabh Bachchan encourages a behaviour change in men who have toilets but are not using them. On his Tumblr blog, Amitabh Bachchan wrote:
At the work involuntarily for the Swachh Bharat Campaign .. a clean India .. an open defecation free India .. close the door, for, when you do that, you close the door to illness too .. build the toilets yes .. but using them for the purpose they have been made for is vital ..
Thoroughly modern Anushka Sharma encourages women to stand up for this issue in their village and influence a positive change.
The following playlist features the trailer for Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and related videos including an overview of the issue by Bill Gates and videos from the Darwaza Band campaign.
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