As comedies go…

… the lowly toilet has long been the brunt of many a comedic trope, potty humor being the universal go-to language when you need a sure thing.  We laugh at bathroom humor the same way we laugh when someone unexpectedly slips and falls.  We can’t help ourselves, chortling, snickering, and sinking into paroxysms of laughter if someone is clumsy enough to miss a step or a stair.  Perhaps it’s a universal acknowledgement of the collective embarrassment we all feel when publicly caught doing something stupid so we laugh because it feels better than crying.  The reaction starts from an early age when just whispering the word “fart” to a kindergartener can reduce them to giggles.  Flatulence is something everyone experiences from time-to-time, yet because we just don’t like to admit these things out loud the universal response is to laugh, and that’s for 5 and 50-year olds alike . 

Yet the cultural differences surrounding one’s toilette couldn’t be more divergent across and between the continents, and if you want to watch a comedic testament to this issue from the subcontinent of India, then watch Toilet, A Love Story, a 2017 comedic/drama directed by Shree Narayan Singh.  

India has a population of 1.37 billion people, and roughly one billion of them have access to a toilets, V.I.P. latrines, or other “acceptable outhouses.  The Modi government started, in 2014, with “Swachh Bharat”,  a massive building campaign, subsidizing outhouses and latrines, yet approximately 30% of the country’s population still practices open defecation.  At least 90 million toilets have since been built, though most not by blueprint. Indeed, the  country still struggles, and not always for the reasons you may think. “ 

While India’s government has been working hard to eradicate open defecation, it has received pushback from several actors, including the religious sector.  As Toilet, A Love Story points out, many conservatively religious groups believe that having a toilet in our near their house renders it unclean.  Of course, these same groups think nothing of having women and men arise before the sun, walk to open fields to defecate. That’s how it’s always been done.  And it’s not just the men who think this way; the women do, too, even though there is much evidence that open defecation leads to increased violence against women.

Toilet, A Love Story takes a light-hearted approach to the intractable problem of lack of access to WASH and offers real solutions.  The movie is long, about 2.5 hours, and with much dialogue in fast-flowing Hindi —  so the subtitles fly across the screen, but on TV you can pause and review. I suggest you invest the time and you’ll be delighted you did, plus you may learn a few things in the process.”

Toilet is available for streaming on Netflix and Youtube. 

Pam Lazos is an environmental lawyer with a passion for assuring access to clean water for all, a blogger, and author of the novel “Oil and Water”, about oil spills and green technology, and “Six Sisters”, a collection of novellas about the family ties that bind us.  She practices laughter daily.