An eight-year-old boy, traumatised after his mother is sexually abused when she went for her early morning ablutions on an isolated pathway in Mumbai, tries to build her a toilet. In an isolated corner of his basti, he assembles four bamboos, a few discarded wood planks and rocks, and sets up a temporary toilet, covering it with his mother’s sari. You won’t have to go out in the open any more, he tells his mother. But the joy is short-lived as it turns into a public toilet when other women from the community start using it, leaving it dirty and unkempt. And soon, a heavy rainfall is enough to bring the structure down.
This moment in Mere Pyare Prime Minister is gushy. In a few minutes, it captures many emotions—of the turmoil that the child goes through seeing his mother in pain, the problems that people living on the fringes face on a daily basis, and the the ordeal of living without the basic resources.
Through the story of Kanhu (an adorable Om Kanojiya) and his mother, Sargam (Anjali Patil), the film captures all these and more. The young boy, with help from his friends in the neighbourhood—all of them adorable and innocent—takes up the challenge to convince the government to build toilets for them. The process is long and daunting. They understand this when they approach the local municipality. It lays bare the politics at play at every level of governance, irrespective of the region. It is as bad in Mumbai as it is in a rural region of the country. Files are passed from one department to another, and none of the 'babus' seem interested in helping.
Only the prime minister can help, Kanhu is told by an official in the municipal corporation. Kanhu writes a letter to the prime minister next. It leads him and his friends to a little excursion as they board a train to Delhi to deliver it in person, bringing out some really touching and funny moments, thanks to some of the fine performances by almost everyone in the cast.
That, however, isn't to say that the film maintains its pace and its emotional and sensitive gaze throughout. The strength and weakness of the film overlaps. The bare display of poverty and the disadvantages that come with it favours the film at times, and some moments stand out. But it frequently turns into poverty porn, almost like Slumdog Millionaire, and the conversation around poop seems never-ending. The frequency with which these conversations are repeated ruptures the beauty of the story. The dialogues meant to create humour become cringe-worthy, and the moments that could have been emotionally stirring end up being a device of manipulation.
Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra also wastes a lot of time in building the story that probably could have worked better if made shorter. It meanders into different things in order to capture the life of these kids, who often end up working in and around traffic signals. And if that's not enough, the film also comes across as too self-absorbed. Songs from Mehra's previous films play in the background every now and then, while the original music, composed for the film by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, fails to stand-out.
Film: Mere Pyare Prime Minister
Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Starring: Anjali Patil, Om Kanojiya, Rasika Agashe