Toilet: Ek Prem Katha

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Recently, a friend of mine suggested that we watch this new movie called Toilet: Ek Prem Katha. I do like watching movies on social issues, especially those concerning India, so I agreed. At the end of it, I came out of the movie theater more baffled/irritated than anything else. Was it an entertaining movie with an incredible social message or a hidden propaganda and siding with one of the major political parties in India?

I felt uneasy when Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, a Reliance Company production, started by applauding the Prime Minister and naming him for his “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan”. I admire the initiative of “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” but specifically naming the current Prime Minister and applauding such schemes as his individual effort seems a bit like buttering to me. It would have been easier to digest had the movie simply stated that it appreciates the steps taken by the government in spreading awareness among the citizens.

The movie started off as a romantic story between Akshay Kumar and Bhumi Pednekar with songs that I found to be too many and unnecessary. During the intermission (thankfully a much needed break for my train of thoughts), I discussed with my friend how Akshay Kumar had recently received a National Award for the movie Rustam. Akshay Kumar is one of the finest actors in Bollywood who has successfully maintained his fan base for decades. However, Rustam, arguably, is not the best piece done by Akshay Kumar, who also happens to be a Canadian citizen. It is true that to win a National Award, the person does not need to be an Indian citizen. But it raises questions when a person who receives the National Award for a sub-par performance in the same year when other hits like Dangal (Aamir Khan) were released is also seen as a big supporter of the ruling government (particularly in 2015 during the controversy of “award-wapsi”). Given the chain of events, I was thinking if it was fishy that Akshay Kumar, a Canadian citizen, awarded a National Award for a sub-par performance, who then is a lead character in a movie that commends and praises the Prime Minister for “his” “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan”?

Unfortunately, the second half of the movie does more to confirm my doubts that this movie is a pro-government propaganda by inserting “good ideas” like “Demonetization” and “6 millions toilets being built in last 3 years”. It must be a pure coincidence that our honorable Prime Minister was elected exactly 3 years ago too! And then of course there is a corruption scandal that is supposed to be addressed, a scam that they again specifically mention happened 4 years ago. Yes, there was a Toilet scam in the previous government and I would criticize that as much as I can but can you connect the dots here? A movie that was supposed to spread awareness among the people to not defecate in the open ends up endorsing the Prime Minister, even for unrelated things to the movie, and ridiculing the previous government? Toilet: Ek Prem Katha clearly abuses the power it holds to connect to millions of people and messes up with a chance to be the movie that stood up for a social cause without any prejudice.

I smell a rat when a company called Viacom-18 (owned 50% by Reliance), led by Mukesh Ambani, one of the wealthiest person in the world and supposedly a close aid to the Prime Minister, produces a movie led by a movie actor who received an award he did not deserve. No surprise that this movie is going to run tax-free in all the states led by the current government. I feel like a stupid, helpless, and gullible Indian when I watch mainstream movies like these that are meant to subtly manipulate us by endorsing some political party. We sure are better than this! Watching the movie reminded me of the quote “If you state a lie often enough it becomes the truth”. Was this movie supposed to create a good image of the government among its citizens? Was it an intentional pro-government propaganda movie produced by Reliance who is trying to maintain a productive relationship with the current government? It is quite irresponsible and a shame that a respected form of art, a mass media would side with one political party and actually try to exploit the audience though such movies.

I hope to be able to praise and give credit where it is due, and I hope that I can rationally criticize where it is needed as well. A bigger hope is to see my country people be smarter than just taking in whatever such movies feed us and start a respectful discussion. No doubt that the current government has done some good work but there are also a lot of areas it could have done much better. It is high time that we first become smart Indian citizens who read a lot, research, discuss, respect one another, and become smart voters rising above the boundaries of religion, region, and castes.

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