There are a few things that really fly in “Toilet Ek Prem Katha”, and chief among them is the female protagonist Jaya, a liberated, feisty young bride in a village near Mathura, who leaves her husband’s home when she realizes that living with him is going to mean heading out into the fields each time she needs to relieve herself. Played by a terrific Bhumi Pednekar, Jaya is a strong, no-nonsense woman who loves her husband but refuses to resign herself to this fate.
Keshav (Akshay Kumar) is her conflicted spouse; he empathizes with her but can’t stand up to his staunch traditionalist father who breaks into hives at the mere thought of installing a toilet in a home where food is cooked.
This sets the stage for a clash between generations and ideologies, for a clever nod to the Prime Minister’s beloved Swach Bharat Campaign, and for a satirical look at how outdated, regressive mindsets frequently stall social progress. Despite its winning premise, which is loosely inspired by a true story, “Toilet Ek Prem Katha” is weighed down by its indulgences. The film is on solid ground when it focuses on Keshav’s dilemma. But it’s overlong at 2 hours and 35 minutes, and takes forever to get to the central conflict. It’s also packed with too many songs and a second half that isn’t merely preachy, but whacks you on the head with its message.
Which is a shame because some things work nicely. Director Shree Narayan Sharma and his writers use humor to tide over several bumps, and the supporting cast is strong. Sudhir Pandey is in very good form as Keshav’s stubborn father, unwilling to let go of his old-fashioned beliefs, and Divyendu Sharma lets the jokes rip as Keshav’s younger brother.
It’s clear the film has its heart in the right place but the blatant pandering gets tiresome. Akshay Kumar brings just the right amount of levity and Bhumi Pednekar shines. It’s the sloppy writing that is the culprit here. “Toilet Ek Prem Katha” had potential but it’s only sporadically entertaining. I’m going with a generous two-and-a-half out of five.
Rating: 2.5 / 5