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Interview Hindi

No one asks the paparazzi whether they are stalking us: Akshay Kumar

The star agrees, however, that some of the visuals in the song 'Hans Mat Pagli' from his forthcoming film Toilet: Ek Prem Katha could be perceived as stalking.

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Mayur Lookhar

He is the busiest star in Hindi cinema today, churning out at least three films a year. Naturally, Akshay Kumar looked tired when he stepped out to speak to the media about his next film, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha. For a moment, one feared the interaction would drain the actor out. But Akshay Kumar is made of sterner stuff and was more than willing to field the questions thrown at him, from toilets and defecation in the open to GST (goods and services tax) on sanitary pads (the subject of his next film). Excerpts:

It took 200 years for us to get swaraj (independence). However, 70 years after independence, we are still facing the menace of open defecation. Yeh sauch ka saamna kitna kathin hai? How many more years will it take for us to see a change?

The way you have framed the question gives the impression that I’m a freedom fighter. On a serious note, the problem is huge, so it is going to take its own time.

I hope we can do things quickly. The stats tell us that every five minutes a child dies because of [bacterial diseases caused by] open defecation. We tend to think this is a rural problem, but the menace is more in the cities where people defecate along railways tracks and on beaches and at street corners.

I once caught a man defecating on the beach. I asked why he did so and he replied, ‘Saheb, mazaa aata hai [Sir, it’s fun]!' While we may find his reply funny, what he doesn’t realize is the problem this creates. Because we in Mumbai stay packed together, it’s easy for diseases to spread.

Today, 54% of the population does not have access to toilets. I hope things change quickly, for the better.

It is said that Toilet was offered to other actors too, but they weren’t keen on it. What pulled you to the film?

I cannot comment on why others refused the project, but I liked the subject and so did it. I know for a fact that the story has been floating around for 4-5 years. It is a risky subject. It’s a love story and was earlier named Sandass: Ek Prem Katha. I found the story intriguing. Also, it’s inspired by true events. It’s a big call for a woman to threaten divorce as her husband’s house doesn’t have a toilet. That’s a tough decision even for an urban girl. I found the story amazing.

Why is it that the word 'toilet' is looked upon in a derogatory manner or laughed at?

Well, the good thing is that we are now openly saying the words sandass and sauchalay. I remember people on the sets wondering if it would be appropriate for me to say the dialogue, ‘Ab biwi ghar aaye na aaye par sandass toh laakar chhodunga [Whether I get a wife or not, I am definitely going to get a toilet].’ Some thought it was taboo, but I didn’t.

I’m stunned at the mindset of the people who don’t have toilets. Their reasoning is that you don’t defecate in the place where you cook. If that is the case, why would you defecate in [agricultural] fields from where you get your food?

The government has done its bit by providing toilets, but some use them for other purposes. They rent it out while others use the space to run shops. You really don’t know what to say about such a mindset.

You are doing another film, Padman, that harps on the issue of menstruation. Are you hoping that with these films, you will be able to address these two issues?

I would want it that way, but this will also require the help of the media, the government. I’m fine if you don't write about my film Toilet, but please do write about the problems of not having a toilet. I remember while shooting a woman came crying to me pleading to get a toilet installed in her house. Poor lady has to walk 3km every day. With no toilets, they hold on to it for the whole day. They can defecate only before sunrise or after sunset. And they go in groups for fear of being raped.

The imposition of GST has resulted in a rise in the price of sanitary pads. Don’t you think the government should reduce the price?

I’m sure the government is looking at it. When the time is right we will talk about it. I’m positive though.

Toilet has so far created the right buzz save for the controversy over stalking in the 'Hans Mat Pagli' song. Did you speak to the director before shooting this song?

No doubt it does that [stalking], especially when I’m [secretly] clicking a photograph, but when you see the film, you will realize that the girl knows it. Sometimes, the girl does it and I let it go, because I want her to have my photograph. Waise toh yaar, main bhi jab kahin se aata hoon toh I’m photographed by the paparazzi. Isn’t that stalking? No one asks them whether they are stalking!

But given how women's security is a serious issue, do we need such visuals in a film? 

It’s a wrong thing to take a woman’s picture without her consent. That is simply not acceptable. [But] this is a film. The scene is going along with what is happening in the film, but in no way am I promoting stalking.

It is often said that actors talk about social issues only when their films are due for release. How do you react to this?

Well, I have talked about the issue of self-defence for women. I have opened a [martial arts] school for 10,000 girls. I wasn’t making any film on self-defence. I didn’t do this thinking one day I’m going to make a film on women's safety.

Finally, Rishi Kapoor once slammed a fan for asking for a selfie in a toilet. Have you ever encountered such a thing? Also, toilets are often overrun by graffiti. What is the worst thing you have seen?

You do come across such people. I’m reminded of an incident from college. I was in the toilet and, moments later, I heard a colleague scream, 'Beta, agar tune itna zor apni padhai pe diya hota toh kabka pass ho gaya hota [Son, had you put in so much effort on your studies you would have passed with flying colours].' As for the graffiti, the women's toilet had interesting texts.

Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is set to be released on 11 August. You can predict the film's box-office performance here.