The attempt at balancing the serious with the jokey sits uneasy. And there’s no getting away from the all-hail-the-PM rah-rah-ness: a return letter from his high office conjures up willing officials and, yes, a place where you can go when you have to.
In the current open season for officially sanctioned ‘socially relevant films’, a film about toilets, or rather, the lack of them, assumes significance.
Toilet Ek Prem Katha battled rural prejudice against constructing toilets within a house. Mere Pyare Prime Minister toplines a slum child’s determination to push the authorities into building a toilet close to his ‘kholi’, for the love of his mother. Can’t fight with a premise which has its heart in the right place, but good intentions do not always a good film make.
The problem with this film, as it is with most films which emerge from following a line, is that it hangs between two stools, pardon the dreadful pun. How to dress up defecation, one of the most noisome bodily excretions, for entertainment?The kids are just fine. Led by Kanu (Kanojiya), they are free-spirited and fun-loving, cracking jokes as they sit in a line, bottoms hanging over water pipelines, to relieve themselves, or as they hoof off, carrying a beseeching letter to the PM. The adults do big people things: flirt, eye each other suggestively, and dance Bollywood-style to a holi song, after a round of ‘bhaang’.
You get the idea straight away, because there’s nothing quite as direct as ‘when you gotta go, you go’ and the problems that occur when you have no place to go: in the film, it comes out clunky in its literal Hindi translation ‘jab jaana hota hai toh jaana hota hai’. There are some nice if a trifle stagey passages between Kanojiya and his single mum (Patil) who has an earnest boyfriend in the shape of magazine stall owner Pappu (Wadhwa), and their good-natured neighbours.
You are aware that the film is dealing with real, serious issues. A woman is raped as she returns alone at night from defecating, which leads to talk of ‘gupt rog’ and blood tests. One of the better parts of the film is that the rape is treated with zero melodrama without taking away its pain. Kids are forced to sell drugs, jollied into distributing condoms (one of the most random throwaway threads in the film) and take a dive, literally, into a shit pit.