Prime Minister Modi’s Clean India campaign, open defecation and all that talk about building toilets: Is Akshay Kumar’s new film trying to sell us something more than a good time? Directed by Shree Narayan Singh, reviews have suggested that the film traffics heavily pro-government propaganda. Although Kumar admirably attempts to widen his range in his latest effort, the film lacks nuance and realism, but prospects doesn’t look grim for Toilet: Ek Prem Katha. The only new film opening in 2,900 locations nationwide this weekend, kicked off with $2 million on Friday. On Saturday, it amassed another $2.5 million, taking the total tally to $4.5 million in two days.
It is Kumar’s second big release this year after Jolly LLB 2, which also became one of the biggest openers in 2017 with a haul of $2.2 million. Kumar, who has the busiest filming schedule in Bollywood — works on an average of four movies a year, also had a small but important role in Naam Shabana, released in March.
Last year, Kumar, who took on the might of the three Khans — Salman, Shah Rukh and Aamir, had an impressive run. Three of his five releases — Airlift ($19.4 million), Rustom ($19.1 million) and Housefull 3 ($16.3 million) — were among the top 5 highest grossing movies of 2016.
Unlike the Khans and the Kapoors, who spare no expense to shoot at exotic locations abroad, with generous dose of song-and-dance routines and mindless action, Kumar’s films are fiscally restrained. Made with a cost of under $3 million, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is now translating into a decent, if not huge, box-office success. The film, which also features Anupam Kher, Divyendu Sharma and Sudhir Pandey, will enjoy a boost over the Independence Day holiday on Tuesday. With holdover Jab Harry Met Sejal falling on deaf ears at the box office, and no major Hollywood releases, Toilet Ek Prem Katha will have no trouble bringing in $8 million over the extended weekend. It has also been declared tax-free in states ruled by Modi’s party.
The film tells the story of Keshav (Kumar), who owns a bicycle repair shop in a village with limited regard for personal or communal hygiene. The problem starts when he marries college graduate Jaya (Bhumi Padnekar), who grew up in a house with a toilet, and refuses to debase herself like other women of the village. Film critics pointed out that while the film didn’t lose out entirely on imagination, unctuous script gets the better of filmmaking.
Praising Kumar and Pednekar’s performances, film critic Rajeev Masand on News 18.com opined: “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.”
In her review for Gulf NewsManjusha Radhakrishnan wrote: “The premise, which is intriguing and novel, becomes repetitive and laboured. Some of the scenes in the second half seems contrived to make the current government shine and sparkle. There’s a good chance that you may have lost interest and your steam by all that drama surrounding a toilet-building battle.”
While Saibal Chatterjee on NDTV goes on to write: “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is inspired by a true incident reported from Madhya Pradesh village a few years ago, but little that it offers by way of insight rings true. Some of the dialogues are cringe-worthy, the dramatic moments gratingly shrill, and the solutions utterly facile.”