CLEAN-UP HE­ROES: AKSHAY KU­MAR AND MATT DAMON

Akshay says it’s won­der­ful that the ‘No Toi­let, No Bride’ rule has taken In­dia by storm Damon, co-founder of a global water char­ity, hails the way Akshay has spot­lighted open defe­ca­tion

Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur) - Hindustan Times (Jaipur) - City - - Front Page - Monika Rawal Kukreja Neha Sharma

[Bol­ly­wood] has the power to make In­dia a bet­ter, safer, and more hy­gienic coun­try to love and live [in] AKSHAY KU­MAR, AC­TOR

As Toi­let: Ek Prem Katha con­tin­ues to roar at the box of­fice, cross­ing the 125-crore mark, the film’s lead ac­tor Akshay Ku­mar says that he never ex­pected to win the num­ber game. “I never wanted to fo­cus on the money this film could make, only the aware­ness it could cre­ate,” says Akshay. Glad that Amer­i­can ac­tor and phi­lan­thropist Matt Damon has also watched the film and shared words of ap­pre­ci­a­tion, Akshay feels that such sup­port def­i­nitely helps in spread­ing the mes­sage. He says, “When men­tors and idols from across the world wel­come your ef­forts with open arms and in such a re­spect­ful na­ture, it’s hum­bling be­yond com­pre­hen­sion. When you set out to do good, even more good comes back to you — karma cir­cle at its best.” Akshay has es­tab­lished him­self as an ac­tor who chooses con­tent-driven char­ac­ters; it’s only a bonus that his films usu­ally cross the 100-crore mark fastest. “With such suc­cess, you can’t have com­pla­cency. One has a ridicu­lous amount of re­spon­si­bil­ity,” he says. “I be­lieve,” he adds, “that the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try has the power to make In­dia a bet­ter, safer, and more hy­gienic coun­try to love and live [in]. Just by ed­u­cat­ing the peo­ple some­times via com­edy, you can spread aware­ness on [crit­i­cal] is­sues of to­day, so they can fi­nally be gone tomorrow.” On viewer re­ac­tions, he says, “The best part of our jour­ney has been re­ceiv­ing in­for­ma­tion about women tak­ing a strong stand be­fore a mar­riage pro­posal can take place. The ‘No Toi­let, No Bride’ rule has taken In­dia by storm.” About those who called Toi­let: Ek Prem Katha an “agenda film” and part of BJP pro­pa­ganda, Akshay as­serts that “not every­thing is about pol­i­tics” and one has to take charge of things and not al­ways ex­pect the state to act. He says, “Isn’t it true there’s al­ways a few that want to defe­cate on one’s pa­rade? Those few peo­ple need to drop the cyn­i­cism and have a lit­tle faith that some peo­ple in this world just want to make things bet­ter. It’s not only the BJP that wants to clean In­dia; In­di­ans want to clean In­dia also, so let’s not tar­nish ef­forts by slan­der­ing our mo­tives.”

Hol­ly­wood star Matt Damon and Bol­ly­wood star Akshay Ku­mar have some­thing in com­mon — apart from their global fan fol­low­ing. Akshay’s re­cent hit, Toi­let: Ek Prem Katha deals with open defe­ca­tion in In­dia, an is­sue that Damon’s non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion, Water.org, has been ad­dress­ing for years now. In an ex­clu­sive chat with us, Damon says he’s de­lighted that Akshay de­cided to high­light this is­sue in a film. “It’s great to have stars like Akshay and films like Toi­let: Ek Prem Katha spot­light­ing the open defe­ca­tion cri­sis, as it helps to drive more aware­ness of not only the is­sues but also what can be done to cre­ate change. Our or­gan­i­sa­tion, Water.org, is ded­i­cated to end­ing open defe­ca­tion glob­ally.” Damon con­tin­ues, “I have seen first-hand the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects on health, the threat to women and chil­dren, and the con­tam­i­na­tion of safe drink­ing water from open defe­ca­tion. It’s clear to me that a per­son can­not thrive and reach their full po­ten­tial with­out first hav­ing ac­cess to safe water to drink, and the dig­nity of a san­i­tary toi­let.” The ac­tor last vis­ited In­dia in 2013 to mon­i­tor the Water. org projects here. At that time, he was ap­par­ently fas­ci­nated by the mas­sive in­flu­ence of In­dian movie stars, and he en­joyed the spicy In­dian food, too. But what he re­mem­bers most clearly is his in­ter­ac­tion with peo­ple, and he’s look­ing for­ward to coming back. “The peo­ple in the cities and vil­lages of In­dia were gra­cious and wel­com­ing,” says Damon. “Meet­ing with peo­ple in Chennai, Mum­bai, and Ban­ga­lore, I lis­tened to them tell me [about] their wish to have toi­lets.” He also met those who were helped by Water.org with build­ing their own toi­lets. “[They] were very proud to show them to us,” says Damon. “This is what sticks out for me… peo­ple want their own bath­rooms; to feel safe, clean, and to have their pri­vacy pro­tected. While I do not have a date for my next trip, I am look­ing for­ward to vis­it­ing In­dia again soon.”

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