Akshay Kumar: I find real-life stories very intriguing and it triggers me to do a movie based on them.

Today, Akshay Kumar is considered to be one of the most bankable stars in Bollywood. It took him years to attain the superstardom which he enjoys today. The actor, who tasted humongous success with action films in the initial years of his career, later began choosing films that were high on content. After appearing in a number of content-driven films like “Baby”, “Airlift” and “Sultan” in the last couple of years, Khiladi Kumar is now all set to mesmerize the audience with his new, social issue-driven film, “Toilet : Ek Prem Katha,” which is  inspired by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swacch Bharat campaign. In a candid chat with our Mumbai correspondent, Mohnish Singh, the actor spills some more beans on the film, his penchant for doing issue based film and much more. Read on…

It’s learnt that a couple of actors refused to do “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha”. What made you choose the movie?

I have no idea that why they refused it. I liked the subject and I did it. I don’t know what they felt about it, but I know that the script was roaming around in the industry for four and a half years. See, it is a risky subject to talk about. The film was actually called “Sandas: Ek Prem Katha”. But I found it to be very intriguing and liked the fact that it was based on a real story. Things like this did happen. There was a woman who said to her husband, “I don’t want to stay with you because you don’t have a toilet at home.” It’s a big thing for someone from village to take a step like this. Even in cities, people will think twice to take a step like this. I found it to be amazing how this woman did it. She was not the one’ there were 4-5 women like this who asked for a divorce in absence of toilets at home.

The Swachh Bharat campaign was launched way back in 2014. Do you think if the movie had come back then, it would have attracted a wider audience?

I don’t understand the wider or larger audience. I just know that the film will go into some 3200 screens and that should make a difference. I am unaware whether a large number of people will come and watch it, but I am keeping my fingers crossed that after watching this movie, the issue will be highlighted and there will be a change. 54% of Indians don’t have toilets at their home and even if my movie makes a difference of 5%, I will think it has become a successful one.

What kinds of change will this film bring with respect to sanitation?

I am a bit surprised about how people have started to openly talk about toilets only recently. I remember when I had to mouth the dialogue, ‘Ab biwi ghar me aaye na aaye, sandas toh lake hi chodunga is gaon me’, there were people discussing if I should say the line or not because it was considered a taboo to speak openly about the topic. Through this film, people have at least started talking about it and I feel it’s a good change.

As you just mentioned that the film was earlier titled as “Sandas: Ek Prem Katha”. Later, it was renamed as “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha”. What did that?

I think it was a collective decision by considering everybody’s views and we then said let’s call it “Toilet : Ek Prem Katha”.

When it comes to sanitation, cleanliness and hygiene, other countries are proactive and have much better precautions whereas our country is lagging far behind. What do you think is the reason?

The concept of not having a proper sanitation has been in the country for ages now and it will take some time to change our mannerisms, mindset and thinking but, at least, we have set the ball rolling. Trust me, we are going to reach a position where the hygiene will become most essential part than any other thing and if we work towards it as a team, we will surely succeed in bringing the much-required awareness and will ultimately succeed in our mission. It’s indeed shameful that more than half of the population defecate in the open which ultimately leads to health hazards. I remember when I confronted a man who was openly defecating at a beach I asked him why is he doing that openly as he has got a toilet built in his area. His reply stunned me when he said ‘maza aata hai’ (It feels good). The mindset has to change. We don’t realize but when compared to rural, urban cities have to face the wrath as they stay in a congested area and it affects them more than those who live in rural places.

This particular year has been pretty disappointed for Bollywood where, except for a handful movies, nothing really worked at the box office. What do you think is the reason?

Probably the content is not up to the audience’s expectations. Today, the Indian audience only looks for good content. Perhaps that is why the bars have been raised.

For the past two years, you have been doing movies which are loosely based on true stories, do you have an inclination towards such content?

Yes, I find such stories very intriguing and it triggers me to do a movie based on them. Something inside me tells that this story should be known to people out there in the open, it has some spark in it which people should at least be aware of and it’s indeed a pleasure to spread awareness through films over such issues.

First building a toilet and then maintaining it, they seem to be two different issues. What according to you should be the right solution to these problems?

Maintenance is definitely an issue but when it comes to a solution, I really can’t talk and explain much about it. Our movie has highlighted the problem and we need to work together as a team for the solution and also acknowledge it. The movie has a lot of comedy in it and, all in all, it is also a light-hearted movie. It’s also not a documentary where I am preaching but it raises an issue which cannot be ignored easily.

The movie has been making all the right kind of noise since the release of its trailer except for that portion of it where you are making a video of the girl without her consent. It’s like stalking, isn’t it?

Of course, stalking is wrong but here it is not stalking. When you see the movie you will realize that the girl is aware of the fact that I am clicking her photo and she wants me to do that although she pretends to be unaware of it. Also, she does the same to me later. People will have to watch the film to really know what happens and how it is not real ‘stalking’. The girl has her consent. And on a lighter note, there are so many paparazzi who click celebrities all the time without their consent, do they ask us before publishing it in their publications? Not at all.

You were supposed to star in the sequel of “Namastey London”, which has been titled “Namastey Canada” and is being made with Arjun Kapoor. Were dates the reason you did not do the film?

Yeah, dates were the issue for me.

Is “Housefull 4” happening?

For “Housefull 4”, there is no script as yet.

“Toilet: Ek Prem Katha” hits screens today across cinemas worldwide.