Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s film is earnest but cinematically inert
It focuses on the problems of open defecation and lack of toilets
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s overly earnest drama lands on the intersection between Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and Gully Boy. Through the wretched lives of eight-year-old Kanhaiya/Kanhu (Om Kanojiya) and his mother, Sargam (Anjali Patil), Mere Pyare Prime Minister spotlights the issue of open defecation and the lack of toilet facilities for the underprivileged.
The story is set in the slums of Mumbai where the happy-go-lucky Kanhu sometimes goes to school, often sells newspapers at traffic lights while distributing condoms to grownups, and does random jobs to earn a few bucks. His mother does embroidery work to support herself and her only child. One night, a solitary visit outdoors to relieve herself takes a dark turn.
Seeing his mother so vulnerable, it becomes the little boy’s mission to build a toilet for her. His homegrown attempts at building a makeshift loo are short-lived and end in a sludgy mess. This propels him to seek an audience with the person authorised to build them a toilet.
And just like that, Kanhu and his two mates, Ringtone (Adarsh Bharti) and Nirala (Prasad), don their finest jackets and ride the train to Delhi to deliver a letter requesting the Prime Minister for a toilet. The fourth of their gang, Mangla (Syna Anand), is back in Mumbai providing support.
This adventure is the shortest section of a film that takes its time showing the ins and outs of slum life, introduces the audience to friendly neighbours like the supportive Rabiya (Rasika Agashe), opportunistic letches like Sainath (Makrand Deshpande), and a gentle young man, Pappu (Niteesh Wadhwa), who cautiously courts Sargam.
This budding romance is one of the only charming elements in the film. The issue of women’s safety, the manner in which Sargam overcomes her horrifying experience, and the performances are plus points, with Patil, Wadhwa, Agashe, Anand, Bharti and Prasad deserving special mention.
At times, the screenplay by Mehra, Hussain Dalal and Manoj Mairta comes across as a docu-drama. There are also a few superfluous characters like a Punjabi bureaucrat who seems to have wandered onto the wrong film set, Deshpande as Sainath, and a Spanish do-gooder. Appearing to be overly focused on delivering a message, the director has compromised on delivering a well-crafted cinematic experience.