Toilets Are More Important Than Mosques and Temples: Rakeysh Mehra

Be it the Akshay Kumar starrer Toilet: Ek Prem Katha or his own directorial Mere Pyaare Prime Minister, films delving into the need to eradicate open defecation are "timely", says filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, who feels that the nation needs to build more toilets than mosques and temples.

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, FilmmakerI really don’t know what these films will do, but they are very timely.

He has a point. According to Unicef India, India has the largest number of people - over 564 million - still defecating in the open. Also, about 65% of people in rural India do not have access to toilets.

While Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (releasing on Friday) is trying to spread the message of Swachh Bharat by highlighting the importance of building more toilets in an entertaining way, Mere Pyaare Prime Minister - with its intriguing title - will tell a humble story of a slum boy, who wants to build a toilet for his mother. Mehra said these stories go beyond the subject of toilets.

Rakeysh Omprakash MehraThe stories are not about toilets. They are about human beings. So, I hope that as a human story, Mere Pyaare Prime Minister can reach out and touch hearts, and move you in a way which is very positive and thereby, the story becomes a part of a collective consciousness, rather than what just might concern a selective consciousness. I hope it becomes not just a talking point, but an awareness. Once there’s an awareness, something can be done about it.

He said in another interview, “the voice of the film even tells you that rather than making mosques and temples, it’s more important to make toilets”.

Prodded on why he said that, the National Award-winning filmmaker clarified:

Rakeysh Omprakash MehraI am not defying a belief. I don’t believe in mosques and temples. I do believe they are essential to a society and people find their peace of mind and a spiritual connect. But I also feel that the focus of the nation cannot be kept on that. It needs to shift now towards giving social security, social benefits to the people of this country. Just making their lives happier. Maybe what I am trying to say is that you can go without going to the mosque or temple for a day, or even go without a meal, but you can’t just go without going to the toilet everyday. I am saying it in a practical way, and not saying it in a frivolous way or like a joke. It’s a simple biological fact of life.

Mehra is doing his bit by being associated with the Yuva Unstoppable NGO for the cause of building toilets in municipal schools, in various parts of India.

Having grown up in Delhi, Mehra has been a resident of Mumbai for almost three decades now. It is the "contrast between the haves and the have-nots" in the country's financial capital that irked him enough to explore a movie around it.

The result is Mere Pyaare Prime Minister. Largely shot with four children, real extras from slums and National Award-winning actress Anjali Patil, Mehra took his cameras to Mumbai suburbs Amrut Nagar and Passpoli, to capture the true-to-life scenes and locations where people defecate in the open.

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra takes a selfie with youngsters from Yuva in Gujarat. 

Rakeysh Omprakash MehraWhen you take a flight to Mumbai, your plane feels like it will land on slums and suddenly there’s a runway. When I shifted to Mumbai around 30 years ago, there was one slum called Dharavi, the biggest in Asia and all of that. And now when I look around, there are a hundred Dharavis around us. There are more slums than buildings. So, I always wondered what’s life like there.

In the quest to find that, he realised that "against all odds, there's an immense celebration there".

Rakeysh Omprakash MehraDespite all the problems, people don’t give up hope. That hope inspired me to get into this film. I wanted to tell a story of inspiration.

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