A romantic comedy about going to the loo – that film would never get made, right?
Wrong. Bollywood produced a movie about exactly that last year. And it is the latest film from India to take China by storm.
Toilet: A Love Story tells the tale of Jaya, a new bride who starts divorce proceedings when she realises that her new home lacks a loo.
Instead, the women of the village get up before dawn and head out to the fields to do their daily business, so as not to be seen.
Jaya’s husband tries to persuade his parents to build a toilet in their residence but the father resists saying it would dirty his home.
Eventually Jaya moves back in with her parents, who have a bathroom, while her husband Keshav comes up with various ways to get a lavatory for his spouse.
“Whether my wife comes back or not I will build a toilet in this village,” swears the determined hero at one point.
Chinese audiences gave the film 7.1 out of 10 on the ratings website Douban and as with other Indian films in recent years, viewers said they appreciated the fact the movie – called Toilet Hero in Chinese – dealt with a serious social issue, albeit in a humorous way.
“Why is it that their country can approve a film that satirises social conditions when our country cannot?” asked one Sina Weibo user.
“This is India flaunting its democracy!” quipped another.
Last year Aamir Khan’s Dangal – a tear-jerker about female wrestling – was a surprise hit, heading ticket sales in cinemas for almost two weeks in May (see WiC366).
Much of China’s new-found love for Bollywood is down to Khan, who also starred in the 2009 film 3 Idiots – the first Indian offering in recent times to enjoy critical success in China.
Another of his films Secret Superstar took Rmb746 million ($112.5 million) in Chinese ticket sales earlier this year.
Toilet: A Love Story, which stars the lesser known Akshay Kumar as Keshav and relative newcomer Bhumi Pednekar as Jaya, has taken Rmb93 million so far. What is interesting about Toilet and Dangal is that they both touch on social issues that are also pertinent in China: womens’ rights and sanitation.
Despite China’s rapid economic development, 17 million households still don’t have access to a sanitary toilet. A further 40 million households have no toilets of their own and depend on public bathrooms, according to figures from the National Health and Family Planning Commission.
In 2015 Chinese leader Xi Jinping called for a ‘Toilet Revolution’ after visiting farmers in Jilin who were still relying on basic hole-in-the-ground facilities.
Last November he reiterated the instruction, saying “the toilet issue is no small thing, it’s an important aspect of building civilised cities and the countryside” (see WiC391).
Yet the issue isn’t as simple as building adequate loos. There is also the question of what happens to the waste. According to the China Daily, 90% of Chinese villages are not connected to sewage treatment facilities.
The government has plans to improve the situation by installing small treatment plants or laying more local pipes to feed the huge wastewater treatment centres it has built in the country’s cities.
China has the capacity to process huge amounts of sewage due to big investments in treatment facilities during the twelfth Five-Year Plan (2011-2015). But without the pipes to deliver wastewater to the plants, many of the treatment centres are left partially idle.
Last year the Global Times gave the example of the Jiuquhe wastewater plant in Chongqing which can handle up to 100,000 tonnes of wastewater a day.
However, it was only receiving about a quarter of that amount in daily flow, the newspaper said.
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