New Delhi: Akshay Kumar’s satirical comedy Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is riding high on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat campaign to drive home its point about the need for better sanitary conditions. The Viacom18 Motion Pictures production has designed its marketing campaign around the need for social change.

“It often said that cinema is an agent of social change. Toilet: Ek Prem Katha will promise entertainment while also driving an active social message. The star power of Akshay Kumar coupled with the core value of the film where it takes on the stigma of open defecation by the horns is the anchor for the campaign," said Rudrarup Datta, senior vice-president, marketing, Viacom18 Motion Pictures.

The campaign has toilets branded across quick service restaurants like McDonald's and Costa Coffee, besides budget carrier Air Asia and the Sulabh Shauchalaya public toilets. A tie-up with social enterprise Caya Constructs includes painting 80 toilets across the country with sanitary hygiene-related caricatures and messages. These toilets will be in the states of Haryana, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. The company that manufactures products for sanitation and water resource management for various government and corporate clients is also conducting workshops across slums and government schools to spread the message further.

“For a change, there’s a movie whose theme is so aligned with what we are trying to do. More than the box office success, the theme should live on. That’s our focus, if the message of Toilet lives on and all of India learns to love toilets, then open defecation will truly be eradicated," said Navneet Garg, founder and chief executive officer, Caya Constructs.

Apart from an integrated trailer launch that happened simultaneously on social media and during the high-profile India versus South Africa Champions Trophy match on Star Sports India, personalized messages from Kumar’s Twitter handle also helped. The Toilet anthem, a song encompassing the spirit of the film, sung by Kumar himself, was launched with a special karaoke version in Uttar Pradesh by chief minister, Yogi Adityanath. Kumar toured the state aggressively where the film has already been made tax-free. He has also been appointed brand ambassador of the ‘Clean UP Mission’ by the CM.

The extensive media burst across television, print, digital and radio is intended at reaching out to every film-going consumer in the country, Datta said. The campaign is estimated to cost the studio around Rs15 crore, industry experts estimate. Partnerships include brands like multiplex chain PVR who have opened up their toilets to public for use in three cities, budget carrier Air Asia, digital payment major PayTM , social media platforms Facebook and Twitter, sanitaryware brand Hindware, piping and plumbing products manufacturer Astral, Future Group-owned homecare brand Cleanmate, tile brand Kajaria, global technology major eBay , toilet seat sanitizer Pee Safe and electronics goods retailer Croma.

“Of course, there is a clear attempt to leverage the brand equity of the Swachh Bharat campaign. But beyond that, because the topic was already out in the open, the moment you put a commercial publicity flavor to it, it trivializes it a little bit, the whole thing almost appears sponsored and promoted by the government rather than a Bollywood movie," said Saurabh Uboweja, chief executive officer at brand consultancy Brands of Desire.

Uboweja added that because open defecation is a topic of national importance today, every brand would want to associate with the film and leverage the equity of Swachh Bharat, the concept. Typically, a brand would shell out Rs50-60 lakh to partner with a film like this. But there are other challenges.

“Problems on ground are more serious like the fact that toilets are being made but there is no infrastructure to discharge the waste. In that sense, for people in rural areas who can’t use toilets, this movie may become an embarrassment. Maybe that is why, majority of the film’s campaign is urban-centric, not rural," Uboweja said.

But given the modest budget of the film and the substantial buzz, chances are always bright.

“Look at the timing, if the film was made a couple of years ago, it may not have the same relevance. But now, it’s largely riding high on the PM’s campaign," Uboweja said.

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