Why this Bol­ly­wood star made a movie about a toilet

Ak­shay Ku­mar’s new fea­ture tack­les the prob­lem of san­i­ta­tion in In­dia

Los Angeles Times - - NEWS -

In May 2011, Anita Narre, a woman in a re­mote vil­lage in cen­tral In­dia, aban­doned her hus­band be­cause he didn’t have a toilet in his house. Now her move has in­spired a Bol­ly­wood film fea­tur­ing one of In­dia’s big­gest movie stars.

“Toilet: A Love Story,” which stars Ak­shay Ku­mar and opened in In­dia on Fri­day, tack­les the prob­lem of open defe­ca­tion. More than 500 mil­lion In­di­ans lack ac­cess to toilets, ac­count­ing for three-fifths of the world’s pop­u­la­tion who must go to the bath­room out­doors.

“Hear­ing the damn­ing sta­tis­tics linked to open defe­ca­tion was enough to trig­ger my urge to make a dif­fer­ence through film,” Ku­mar said in an email in­ter­view with The Times.

“I just can’t fathom how we’ve been able to launch rock­ets [to] Mars and the moon but still not been able to build toilets to end open defe­ca­tion across the country.”

The lack of ba­sic san­i­ta­tion is linked to high lev­els of dis­ease and puts women and girls at greater risk. Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions Chil­dren’s Fund, 50% of rape cases in In­dia oc­cur when women go to re­lieve them­selves in the open.

It is an un­likely sub­ject for Bol­ly­wood, fa­mous for its lav­ish love sto­ries and ac­tion se­quences fea­tur­ing beau­ti­ful stars in ex­otic lo­cales. The film por­trays a vil­lage bi­cy­cle seller — played by Ku­mar and based on Narre’s real-life hus­band, Shivram Narre — who strug­gles to build a toilet in or­der to get his wife to come back to him.

It ad­dresses taboos preva­lent in parts of ru­ral In­dia, where many con­sider it un­clean to have a toilet in­side the house. The man’s fa­ther, a con­ser­va­tive from the lofty Brah­min caste of Hin­dus, strongly op­poses build­ing the toilet. Other vil­lagers mock the wife, played by Bhumi Ped­nekar, for de­mand­ing one, say­ing it goes against “In­dian tra­di­tions and roots.”

Women are shown wak­ing be­fore sun­rise to re­lieve them­selves in farm­lands, cov­er­ing their faces in case a passerby shoots a glance. Ku­mar’s char­ac­ter in­fuses the sit­u­a­tion with hu­mor, at one point steal­ing a mo­bile toilet from a film set for his wife to use.

“This is essen­tially a love story,” Ku­mar said, “but when you scratch be­neath the sur­face, there are hard­hit­ting facts and is­sues un­der­lined in this film.”

In pre­par­ing for the film, Ku­mar met the Nar­res and other In­di­ans who lacked toilets, an ex­pe­ri­ence he de­scribed as “eye-open­ing be­yond imag­i­na­tion.” The star’s pre­vi­ous movies, “Air­lift” and “Rus­tom,” were big-bud­get films about the armed forces and played to In­dia’s ris­ing na­tion­al­ism.

There is jin­go­ism in “Toilet,” too, which plays into the pop­u­lar Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s “Clean In­dia” cam­paign, bet­ter known by its Hindi name, “Swachh Bharat.” In pro­mot­ing the film, Ku­mar went on Twit­ter to sup­port Modi’s ini­tia­tive, prompt­ing the In­dian leader to re­spond that the movie was a “good ef­fort to fur­ther the mes­sage of clean­li­ness.”

Crit­ics say the “Clean In­dia” cam­paign has failed to live up to prom­ises. Last month, the leader of the wealthy western state of Ma­ha­rash­tra, run by Modi’s party, de­clared the com­mer­cial cap­i­tal of Mum­bai to be open defe­ca­tion-free, even though many city res­i­dents know that to be un­true.

Last week, a pic­ture of a man ap­par­ently uri­nat­ing by a road­side in front of a poster for “Toilet” went viral.

Supriya Sonar, an ac­tivist in Mum­bai with the Right to Pee cam­paign, a group that ad­vo­cates for bet­ter san­i­ta­tion, said that while she hadn’t seen the movie, it was a wel­come step to raise aware­ness of the prob­lem in cities and ru­ral ar­eas alike.

“Other stake­hold­ers should also con­trib­ute,” Sonar said. “We need to change no­tions.”

Whether au­di­ences will see the film largely rests on Ku­mar’s bank­a­bil­ity. Ini­tial re­views of “Toilet” have been tepid at best, with one head­line writer un­able to re­sist declar­ing, “Ak­shay Ku­mar’s Film Stinks to High Heaven.”

But the ac­tor said he had no re­grets about tak­ing on the sub­ject in a com­mer­cial re­lease.

“Toilets are still a taboo sub­ject in In­dia,” he said. “I am not both­ered about box-of­fice col­lec­tions. I don’t know how many peo­ple will watch the film eventually, but even if 5% helped build toilets, I will feel my film is suc­cess­ful.”

Parth M.N. is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

KriArj En­ter­tain­ment

IN “TOILET: A LOVE STORY,” Ak­shay Ku­mar stars as a man whose wife leaves him be­cause he doesn’t have a bath­room. “This is essen­tially a love story,” Ku­mar said, “but ... there are hard-hit­ting facts and is­sues.”

Money Sharma AFP/Getty Im­ages

MEN LINE UP for a public toilet in New Delhi. More than 500 mil­lion In­di­ans lack ac­cess to toilets.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.