BOLLYWOOD IS OUT TO BREAK TABOOS
Toilet: Ek Prem Katha leads the charge of films that tear through the hush-hush subjects of Indian society. Are audiences ready for it?
You need big stars to drive subjects that are new; you can never undermine star power GAURI SHINDE, FILMMAKER
Bollywood is changing, and for the better, when it comes to breaking taboos in an entertaining way. Several upcoming mainstream films have taken up subjects that Indian society still can’t talk about frankly. These range from open defecation (Toilet: Ek Prem Katha) and menstrual hygiene (Padman) to erectile dysfunction (Shubh Mangal Saavdhan) and vasectomy (Poster Boys). This year’s June release, Phullu, had its plot based on the need for low-cost sanitary napkins.
Gauri Shinde, director of last year’s Dear Zindagi, which dealt with depression, says that the Indian audience was always ready for such subjects. “Though we’ve been ready for a long time now, not many filmmakers were willing to risk it, due to the fear of the box-office [failure].”
Now, with A-listers such as Akshay Kumar and Ayushmann Khurrana starring in such films, the message that the filmmakers intend to convey is accepted more easily. Shree Narayan Singh, director of Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, starring Akshay and Bhumi Pednekar, agrees. “I can talk as much as I want about this crucial issue of proper sanitation, but if I’m alone, it might take years to make myself heard,” says Singh. “But if a [star] like Akshay Kumar says it through a film, the reach increases exponentially.”
Trade expert Atul Mohan feels that multiplexes can be thanked for the increased demand for such subjects. He says, “How long can we serve the viewers with traditional romance and action? People want to explore more. Business today is highly dependent on multiplexes, and realistic subjects are the need of the hour.”
Aanand L. Rai, who has produced the film Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, says that the reason he chose the taboo subject of erectile dysfunction, or impotence, was to break the notion that the Indian middleclass is conservative. “I belong to a very middle-class family, and I feel it’s my responsibility that I should project the change,” says Rai. “I wanted to make a family film that would bring the issue to the fore.” He insists that he isn’t bothered by box-office numbers. Rai says, “The first thing I see is which number I’m safe at, and that number is very small. The only question that matters to me is: am I entertaining you?”
Far left: The poster of Phullu; Top to bottom: Stills and posters from Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, and Poster Boys