A development movie suggestion: “Toilet: A Love Story”

Recommendation #1 – Toilet: A Love Story (originally: Toilet: Ek Prem Katha) is an Indian comedy released in 2017.

The movie is set in two rural villages near Mathura, where at least 80% of households don’t have access to a lavatory, and tells quite an unusual story of “boy-meets-girl”. It follows a newly-wed couple, Keshav, who has a deeply religious and traditional family, and Jaya – a college educated woman. All is well until Jaya discovers that there is no toilet in her new house and threatens to get divorced. To get her back, Keshav vows to bring change in his village by driving social awareness on the usage of toilets and by fighting against the age-old tradition, whilst being watched and helped by the media and the government. Check the trailer of the movie here.

In 2015, according to UNICEF, India was home to 568 million people who lacked access to toilets. One in ten deaths in India can be linked to poor sanitation. Despite improvements in the last decade, it is still wide-spread and a major threat to human health, especially to children’s, manifested mainly through diarrhoeal deaths of children under five. It also leaves girls and women vulnerable to violence, from harassment to sexual assault. Led by India’s Prime Minister, the Swachh Bharat Mission (Clean India Campaign) started in 2014 and has since then increased the number of households with toilets in over 60%. It recognizes not only the need of building the infrastructures in question but also of bringing awareness and a behavioural change, to ensure that such infrastructures will be used regularly. The mission is now in its second phase, aiming to sustain its open defecation free status. Check the programs’ impact here.

Do you think entertainment can play a critical role in changing traditions and generating support for government policies that challenge the social norm? Does it work for more sensitive/serious topics?

Alex Armand is an Assistant Professor at Nova School of Business and Economics, a research fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (UK), and at the Navarra Centre for International Development (Spain). His current work focuses on the effect of providing education-related cash transfers on household outcomes, on the effect of local community engagement on natural resource management, on the role of media in reducing conflict, and on sanitation in urban slums. During his professional career, he has been leading research projects in Macedonia, Mozambique, India, Bolivia, Guatemala, and Honduras. He consulted for the World Bank and the Ministry of Social Policy in the FYR of Macedonia. He holds a PhD in Economics from the University College London. Know more about Professor Alex’s work here.

Written by Patricia Caetano, student of the Master in Economics at Nova SBE and member of the  NOVAFRICA Student Group.