Mere Pyaare Prime Minister: A Poor Cousin of Toilet: Ek Prem Katha

Bollywood

Mere Pyaare Prime Minister: A Poor Cousin of Toilet: Ek Prem Katha

Illustration: Arati Gujar

R

akeysh Omprakash Mehra is a confusing filmmaker. I say this because for someone who made Rang De Basanti – a sharp indictment of bureaucracy, corruption, and the government – his work since, is devoid of any voice. With the exception of possibly Delhi 6, Mehra’s films seem satisfied with repeating, rather than creating: Mirzya is solid proof. His latest outing, Mere Pyaare Prime Minister, only confirms that pattern.

Starring Anjali Patil (Newton) and youngster Om Kanojiya, Mere Pyaare Prime Minister revolves around Sargam, an impoverished single mother who lives in a Mumbai slum with her son, Kanhaiya. One night, when Sargam ventures outside to relieve herself at a public toilet, she is raped – this crime triggers a desire in her son to build a toilet for her.

To do that, he writes a letter to the Prime Minister and then travels to Delhi to deliver it. Essentially, the film – much of which was revealed in its trailer – says nothing new. Its plea against open defecation and in favour of easy access to toilets is a hybrid of the one that we already witnessed in 2017’s Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and last year’s Halkaa. It’s essentially just another love letter to PM Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. That you can predict almost an entire film before it even begins, is always a troubling sign.

In fact, the detours that Mere Pyaare Prime Minister’s plot takes until it brandishes its social messaging are all tired: There’s uneven commentary on social inequality and a generous dose of virtue-signalling amid an offering of some liberally shot poverty porn. The film’s screenplay – written by Mehra, Hussain Dalal, and Manoj Mairta – is way too conscious about the message that it must hold aloft. It’s a classic case of “good intentions” justifying a lazy script, that for instance, mine jokes from an eight-year-old slum kid distributing condoms.

The detours that Mere Pyaare Prime Minister’s plot takes until it brandishes its social messaging are all tired:

In the midst of election season when Bollywood is all too willing to play along with the ruling party’s narrative, Mehra’s film just adds to that noise. The last two months have already witnessed pro-establishment films like Uri: The Surgical Strike, and The Accidental Prime Minister whose sole purpose was to criticise the UPA government. Come April, a couple of days after the general election begins, we’ll be treated to another Modi fan-fiction, this time as Vivek Oberoi plays the pyaare Prime Minister, raising questions about the model code of conduct. It’s then hard to argue that the timing of these paeans – including Mere Pyaare Prime Minister – are just a coincidence or that the ruling party isn’t benefiting from these breathless endorsements.

Throughout the film’s 103 minute-long runtime, there wasn’t a single moment when I didn’t find myself wondering about the purpose of Mere Pyaare Prime Minister. Unlike, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha that starred Akshay Kumar, the film isn’t in a position to raise awareness among the masses – it’s too late in the day to serve only as an advertisement about the PM’s pet project. Plus it isn’t backed by a big name to function as a PSA. The sombreness of its subject doesn’t allow it to become an entertainment vehicle either. Mere Pyaare Prime Minister then is an empty statement: a film that becomes so much about its expired message that it forgets to have a believable story.

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