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Akshay Kumar – ‘Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is a romantic comedy, not a documentary’

Akshay Kumar, is, by far the fittest man in Bollywood, and leads an extremely disciplined life by waking up at the crack of dawn and winding up his day by 6 pm. In fact, it has been a standing joke in the industry that when Akshay wraps up his work on the sets and gets ready to leave for home, certain actors turn up on the sets!

When we asked him how he has only two or three releases this year as opposed to his usual record of five to six films, he first corrects us by saying, “Two-and-a-half”,  referring to Baby‘s spin-off Naam Shabana, in which he had an extended cameo, and he further asks, “Are you trying to say that I am slowing down? Or are you trying to say that I’m lazy?” He explains, “I have completed Padman, 2.0 (the sequel to 2010 blockbuster Robot, with Rajinikanth), and half of Gold is completed. We have not been able to announce a release date for Padman yet. There is no date available, because we have so many releases,” says Akshay.

Akshay Kumar. Image from Facebook

However, the actor is happy about the fact that the clash between his upcoming film Toilet Ek Prem Katha and Shah Rukh Khan’s Jab Harry Met Sejal was averted, when the latter’s release was changed to one week before the previously chosen date. “Everybody is happy when films don’t clash, but unfortunately there are only 52 weeks and  180 releases, so some clashes are bound to happen. And then, we also have films from Hollywood and the South,” he says. This brings us to the humongous success of Baahubali 2: The Conclusionand the disappointing year that has been for Bollywood with just couple of super hit films like Badrinath Ki Dulhania and Hindi Medium so far. Akshay’s immediate query is, “How much was spent on Baahubali 2’s making? Over 400 crore? Toilet Ek Prem Katha has been made in Rs 18 crore. Obviously, the returns will be different.”

Referring to the poor rate of success of Bollywood movies, he further says, “Maybe it has got to do with our content which is not right. Also, they are very systematic in the South. They don’t spend more than Rs 2 crore on publicity. They don’t do reality shows or too many press meets. But like us, they too release big films during Diwali and Pongal. They do reserve those dates. It is not threatening for us, but we can see some new things in cinema. Even our films release in the South, and they have never said that it is a threat. It is just that good films work.”  So have the expectations from Shankar’s sci-fi action drama 2.0, in which Akshay plays an antagonist, gone up?  “Are you stating that I have started taking stress? Well, I can’t say anything more about the film, because I’m bound by my contract,” he says.

Akshay Kumar in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha. Image from Facebook

Akshay recently revealed that the script of Toilet Ek Prem Katha was doing the rounds for four years and was offered to several stars who rejected it before it landed on his plate. “I found it very intriguing. I liked the fact that it was a real story. I wondered how these women actually told their spouses that they wanted a divorce because there’s no toilet at home. It was a big step for these women from villages; even women from the city wouldn’t take this extreme step,” says the actor, adding, “I don’t know how many people will watch the film, but even if five per cent out of the 54 per cent [who don’t have toilets in their homes] are able to install toilets, I will feel my movie is successful. I am not bothered about the box office collections, I am more concerned about the eye-balls it will get. If my producer-distributor can reduce the ticket price, I will be very happy.”

The National Award-winning actor, popularly known as Bollywood’s khiladi, was the go-to actor for action films in the initial years of his career. Later, he was also applauded for his comedies, and off-late, he is being touted as the flag-bearer of patriotism and supporter of diverse social causes, through his movies and otherwise. In fact, he continues to take maximum risks when it comes to playing across genres. If with Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, which will be released on the Independence Day weekend, he takes on the sanitation crisis in India and the need for toilets within homes for women, director R Balki’s Padman is an attempt to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene in rural India. Up next is Gold, a sports drama on the historic first Olympic medal that India won as a free nation. In the last two years, Akshay has acted in Neeraj Pandey’s spy thriller Baby, vigilante action movie Gabbar Is Back, historical drama Airlift and crime thriller Rustom, the last of which won him the National Award for best actor for 2016.

Akshay Kumar in Rustom. image from Twitter

“I want to help people with the help of media and government. Even if you don’t want to write about the film, it is fine, but certainly write about the issue and what women have to go through. They have to walk three kilometres to relieve themselves. They wait for sunset and leave in a group, with the fear of rape. It is a huge issue and I am doing my bit with this film,” says Akshay.  However, the actor clarifies that Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is a romantic comedy and not a documentary. “I am not giving any message, it is only towards the end that it gets a bit serious. It has got loads of masala and action besides four to five songs. Toilet humour is also shown in a different way and along with that there is a true story,” he says.

However, Akshay is clear that he doesn’t want to be typecast again. “I would love to do a khiladi. Just last year I did a complete MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) film, Brothers, then I did Housefull 3 as well. It’s not that I don’t want to do other films besides the realistic ones,” he says.

And one can’t help but ask him about the fate of the his Battle of Saragarhi which was announced with much fanfare; he plays the lead in this film.  There have been speculations that Salman Khan, who is supposed to be co-producing the film with Karan Johar, has opted out and that the film has been shelved.  Says Akshay, “The film is still happening; it is not shelved, but whether Salman is still producing it or not, we will know with time. Talks are on. It’s not yet decided.

Ek Haseena Thi Ek Deewana Tha movie review: Suneel Darshan’s son returns in a film so terrible, it’s riveting

A long long time ago in the kingdom of cliched cinema, a rich man’s daughter falls in love with a poor stable boy. He is killed by her father for that crime. Decades later, his bhatakti aatma returns to claim the heart of her granddaughter. We are told the young lady is her naani’s carbon copy and, as fate would have it, already engaged to her childhood friend at the point she meets the aatma.

What happens thereafter is not what you might expect, but I am not wasting time getting into the nitty-gritty of the story because, frankly, that would amount to beating about the bush. Overriding fact: this film is awful.

It is a romantic thriller, but no twist in the end, nor even Amarjeet Singh’s slick camerawork in the picturesque English and Welsh countryside, can compensate for the all-round godawfulness, the inertness and the dated storytelling that constitute Ek Haseena Thi Ek Deewana Tha.

Poster of Ek Haseena Thi Ek Deewana Tha

Producer-director Suneel Darshan’s latest venture marks the return to Bollywood of music director Nadeem Saifi, and Darshan’s second attempt at giving his son Shiv an acting career.

Nadeem’s compositions for the film are passably melodic while they last, but too generic to be memorable. The Nadeem who has churned out songs for Ek Haseena Thi EDT is not worthy of the reputation enjoyed by the man who made the blockbuster music for Aashiqui and Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin as one half of Nadeem-Shravan in the 1990s. Like this film, his work too seems stuck in time.

It speaks volumes about the pathetic quality of Ek Haseena Thi EDT that the music is still one of the nicer things about it.

The highlight of the film’s horrendousness is Shiv, a milky-skinned gentleman whose expressionlessness resembles the blankness of faces we see these days Botoxed into immobility.

I understand paternal devotion. I do. But to expose your child’s absolute lack of talent before the world is not love. There is no kind way of saying this, so I may as well not mince words: Shiv cannot act.

The only saving grace for him in this film is that Natasha Fernandez is almost — though not entirely — as bad. Instead of advertising itself as a film, Ek Haseena Thi EDT should have considered promoting itself as a contest for pathetic acting between Darshan Junior and Fernandez. Their co-star Upen Patel is no Robert De Niro, but he comes off looking comparatively impressive in the presence of these two and made me wonder whether he might show some spark in a better film.

Pretty Ms Fernandez struggles to work her facial muscles, poses around (clearly at the behest of her director) and delivers dialogues in an amusingly strained fashion. Her Hindi diction is awkward, she even says tukraana for tthukraana. And director saab did not deem it fit to correct her before demanding a retake?

Perhaps Darshan was too busy focusing on getting the wardrobe and makeup departments to package his heroine to perfection so that she could be draped on his son.

The problem lies not just in a father prioritising his offspring over all else, but also in this team’s questionable attitude to women. For instance, the good guy in Ek Haseena Thi EDT is positioned as a good guy although he thinks nothing of kissing a sleeping woman who does not know him; and when one man asks another for a birthday gift, the other guy points to a woman, as though he had purchased her from a shop. Her outburst in the end, about the right to make her own choices, comes as an obvious afterthought, inserted there by writers who want to camouflage their narrow-mindedness in a changing world.

To be fair to Darshan, although he has enjoyed tremendous commercial success, he has at no point been viewed as a great artist or a liberal by serious Bollywood gazers. That said, nothing in his filmography is a match for the vacuity of this film.

Ek Haseena Thi EDT is so terrible, it is riveting. (Spoiler alert, for those who still care) It is not a fantasy flick, nor does it belong to the mythical/mythological genre, yet at one point, a man reveals — with a perfectly straight face — that after an accident, he prayed to God for a few extra days on Earth and God granted him 14. What calculation did God make to arrive at that precise figure. Was God a voice in this fellow’s head? Did s/he appear in flesh and blood? Did they chat on Skype?

With nothing happening on screen, I busied myself with these profound questions. I also briefly considered headlining this review thus: Ek haseen critic thhi, ek khokhla film thha.