With Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Akshay Kumar and Bhoomi Pednekar are on a ‘mission’ to eradicate open defecation in the country and create awareness about its ill-effects. While Akshay has completed over 25 years in Bollywood, this will be Bhoomi’s second film, but their onscreen chemistry is perfect.
Akshay wasn’t aware that 54 per cent of India’s population doesn’t have access to toilets. “I didn’t know it was such a huge problem. I learnt about the figure and facts after reading the script, which had been going around for four years and people were skeptical about doing the film,” he says. Bhoomi wasn’t aware either. “I had realised that toilets were not available when I went on family trips. Women suffered more because they couldn’t do it in the open,” she says.
Bhoomi believes the biggest shortcoming regarding toilets in India is people’s mindsets. “People in the interiors grow up thinking they can’t have a toilet as they grow the holy tulsi plant in the house. Though the government has provided spaces and amenities for toilets, people use them to make shops or something else,” she says.
Akshay says it’ll take time to eradicate open defecation. “We’ll have to be patient as the government is taking pains to change this problem. People shouldn’t litter, they should keep their environment clean. We have to bring about the changes in our environment.”
Bhoomi went through the turmoil village women face to get into the skin of the character. “I went to where we were going to shoot before it began. Women of the village said they answer nature’s call before sunrise or after sunset as they have to defecate in the open forests or fields,” explains Bhoomi. “I didn’t use the bathroom for hours to get that feeling. I stayed there for a few days. For the scene, I had to defecate in the open. I felt so humiliated even though I was only acting. We Indian women are brought up in such a way that we feel awkward to use the washroom when we have guests at home.
After this film, I realised we are such hypocrites. Women were so happy that we were doing a film on this issue though it’s a love story,”
Akshay chips in. “Women in villages are expected to cover their faces, but men are not bothered that their women have to defecate in the open. Women get molested or raped or their MMS are made during such times. I hope this film can create awareness. It is essentially for women,” he says.
The writers of Toilet: Ek Prem Katha had the script for four years, but no one was interested in it. “I loved the story. A woman raises the issue that she’ll divorce her husband if he doesn’t build a toilet for her. It’s not a preachy or documentary film, it has its moments of fun and romance and songs,” he says.
Both Akshay and Bhoomi have been doing films based on social issues. Bhoomi’s debut venture, Dum Laga Ke Haisha, spoke about illiteracy. “People want a break from regular love stories. People are socially aware. I don’t want to waste water. We are global citizens and we want our country to improve. Many social issues can be shown through movies—from sanitary napkins to molestation, dowry, rape to female foeticide,” she explains.
Akshay interrupts and says, “It sounds good when India is top of the map when we speak about people being evacuated from Kuwait. But we are also on the top for open defecation. My next film is about sanitary napkins. Ninety-one per cent Indian women don’t use sanitary pads because they cannot afford them, which is sad. We can make people aware of such issues through entertainment.”
Akshay is playing a villain in the upcoming Rajinikanth movie Robot 2, and is shooting for Reema Kagti’s Gold and Bhushan Kumar’s Mogul. Bhoomi has Shubhamangala Savadhan, a Hindi remake of Tamil movie Kalyana Samayal Saadham, with Ayushmann Khurrana.