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From hygiene to impotence, taboos are broken by Bollywood: Are viewers ready for it?

Akshay Kumar’s Toilet: Ek Prem Katha leads the charge of films that tear through the hush-hush subjects of Indian society, such as defecation, menstrual hygiene, and erectile dysfunction. Filmmakers and trade experts talk about the need for films that cut through the clutter.

bollywood Updated: Aug 08, 2017 15:26 IST
Rishabh Suri
Rishabh Suri
Hindustan Times
Akshay Kumar,Taboo,Toilet
Akshay Kumar in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, a film that puts sanitation at the centre of the plot.

Bollywood is changing, and for the better, when it comes to breaking taboos in an entertaining way. Several upcoming mainstream films, such as Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Padman, and Poster Boys, have taken up subjects that Indian society still can’t talk about frankly. These range from open defecation (Toilet:Ek Prem Katha) and menstrual hygiene (Padman) to erectile dysfunction (Shubh Mangal Saavdhan) and vasectomy (Poster Boys).

In the past year, the film Dear Zindagi dealt with depression, and Phullu was about inventing low-cost sanitary napkins. The year before, the film Aligarh handled the issue of a homosexual person’s right to social acceptance and fair treatment.

Gauri Shinde, director of Dear Zindagi, says that the Indian audience was always ready for such subjects. “Though we’ve been ready for a long time now, not many filmmakers were willing to risk it, due to the fear of the box-office [failure]. You need big stars to drive subjects that are new; you can never undermine star power.”

Akshay Kumar’s Padman and the Sharib Hashmi-starrer 2017 film Phullu are both based on the subject of developing low-cost sanitary napkins.

Now, with A-listers such as Akshay Kumar and Ayushmann Khurrana starring in such films, the message that the filmmakers intend to convey is accepted more easily by the audience.

The film Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is based on a true story, where a wife left her husband for not having a proper toilet in his home.

Shree Narayan Singh, director of the film Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, starring Akshay Kumar and Bhumi Pednekar, agrees. “I can talk as much as I want about this crucial issue of proper sanitation, but if I’m alone, it might just take me years to make myself heard,” says Singh. “But if a man like Akshay Kumar says something through a film, the reach will increase exponentially, because he has reached a certain stage, where people are willing to listen to him.”

Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar in a still from Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, which is based on the subject of erectile dysfunction, or impotence.

Trade expert Atul Mohan feels that the advent of multiplexes can be thanked for the increased demand for such subjects. He says, “How long can we serve the viewers with traditional romance and action? All those are done now, as people want to explore more. Business today is highly dependent on multiplexes, and realistic subjects are the need of the hour.”

Aanand L. Rai, who has produced the film Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, says that the reason he chose the taboo subject of erectile dysfunction, or impotence, was to break the notion that the Indian middle-class is conservative. “I belong to a very middle-class family, and I feel it’s my responsibility that I should project the change,” says Rai. “I wanted to make a family film that would bring the issue to the fore.” He insists that he isn’t bothered by what numbers his film scores at the box-office. Rai says, “Nobody understands economics better than a person who has been brought up on salaries. The first thing I see is which number I’m safe at, and that number is very small. The only question that matters to me is: am I entertaining you?”

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First Published: Aug 08, 2017 13:24 IST