Toilet Ek Prem Katha Movie Review: It Is A Directorial Triumph!

Toilet : Ek Prem Katha

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Bhumi Pednekar, Divyendu Sharma, Sudhir Pande & Anupam Kher

Directed by: Shree Narayan Singh

(4 Stars)

There is a point of no return in the plot when we the audience become so  immersed in the protagonist’s crusade for a better tomorrow that we are cheering and  stomping our feet in encouragement for that bright sunshine-drenched tomorrow of which Sahir Ladhianvi dreamt in  Pyasa and Phir Subah Hogi.

Our protagonist Madhav’s battle is not really reformatory in the way the great heroes of  our times meant it to be. In Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Satyakam when the protagonist Dharmendra marries the rape victim he does it with the least amount of self-congratulations. In  Toilet: Ek Prem Katha Akshay Kumar’s mission to build a toilet for his wife is compared with Shah Jahan building the Taj Mahal for his wife.

I wonder who should feel more affronted by such flamboyant self-glorification:  Moghul history or Modi politics. Either way, there is much too much self-congratulations and heroic hurrahs playing at  the foreground  of this eventful drama,accompanied by an over-punctuated back -ground score .

Akshay Kumar means business. This film is not so much a vehicle to promote the Prime Minister’s Swach Bharatcampaign as to promote Akshay Kumar , period. He milks the film for all his trademark  chuckles and giggles, makingMadhav seem like a Basu Chatterjee hero with a certain sly and smooth sinewiness to his heroism.

It is debutant director Shree Narayan Singh who proves you don’t need extra sinewiness to shine in every frame . He is the Basu Chatterjee and Hrishikesh Mukherjee of our times. He makes hygiene and sanitation seem  humorous without trivializing or tempering the issue. The sorority evidenced  among the  village women as they troop off in the morning for nature’s call is captured with a respectful laugh.

Here is proof that a film can make  a social point without wearing a  constantly sullen demeanour.

Throughout the lengthy film Narayan maintains a  kinetic momentum.He has his  character’s feelings on his fingertips. He digs into the high-points in the drama with the disarmed delight of kid scooping into a bowl of icecream . He negotiates  the dips and curves in this bombastic tale of a man who must fight ‘sanskar’ (no no, not the kind favoured by the censor board)  to build a toilet for his newly married wife.

A warm earthiness and a nimble wisdom pervade the storytelling.The plot is a pyramid of high-pitched drama captured in the basic colours of Nature’s components by cinematographer Anshuman Mahaley(he had shot the first Jolly LLBfilm using an equally  gritty palate). That the director is also the editor helps him to remain on top of the commodious material.  But the film could have been shortened  post-interval where some of the toilet-building drama gets repetitive and shrill.

Though the  high-pitched propagandist tenor and  tone of the narration becomes overpowering after a point—as doesAkshay Kumar’s exaggerated humanism—the film keeps us absolutely close to its heart as Madhav and Jaya’s love story acquires a universality by dint of their intimate affinity to the grassroot level of existence.

Akshay Kumar and Bhumi Pednekar play against one another in sparring spasms ,their age difference notwithstanding. They look like  a couple.The real performing sparks fly when the supporting cast– Sudhir Pande, Divyendu Sharma,Anupam Kher—are around to lend heft to the socio-political argument  on  how women in rural India need dignity before empowerment.

This  is essentially a cause-without-pause melodrama set  at an opulent octave. Happily, director Shree Narayan Singh counterbalances those shrill notes of selfrighteousness and  propaganda with just the right doses of warmth, humour and  irony.

Don’t look for subtlety in the storytelling in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and you will come away a happy viewer with some relevant thoughts on how non-metropolitan India exists without caving into a depression.

 

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