But a new song from the film has just dropped and it’s just plain cringy. Sewn together by the refrain “hans mat pagli pyaar ho jayega” (don’t laugh, you’ll fall in love), the music video features Kumar as the bumbling, ill-fated, marriage-obsessed Keshav relentlessly pursuing Jaya, played by Bhumi Pednekar. Far from being innocent flirtation, Keshav’s love takes the form of literal stalking (punishable under Section 354D), and actually climbing a tree to take photos of Jaya without her consent (prohibited under the Information and Technology Act, 2000), and persisting even when she has told him no. And then there’s the inexplicable moment when he’s enraged to find another man leering at her. Because, obviously, only Keshav has leering rights.
The film completely loses out on the opportunity to hit back at creepy behaviour – it condones it by having Jaya cave in and marry Keshav. Presumably to further the plot or something. And after all of this, Jaya goes to find that Keshav’s home doesn’t have something as basic as a toilet. Of course, that’s what the film is about – sanitation, health, dignity. But the entirety of the courtship between Keshav and Jaya falls back on the same toxic conventions that Bollywood is famous for – stalk a girl until she marries you.
There’s no reason why Keshav’s character should have been written to disrespect Jaya’s personal boundaries. After all, ending sexual harassment does tie up with the central message of the film. Open-defecation is not just a health concern, it also has a gendered dimension. In 2014, the same year that Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, NPR reported how a lack of toilets actually made women more vulnerable to sexual assault. Keshav’s behaviour towards Jaya is part of precisely the same rape culture that endangers women with no access to toilets.
Not only does Kumar star in the film, he has also produced it, with the clear intention of promoting the objectives of the Swachh Bharat campaign. That means that he had enough say in how the characters interact with each other. Portraying Keshav as a weird stalker is just something Kumar will have to take responsibility for.