It takes courage to be the first one to clap for a scene at a movie theater. There is a huge risk that you might end up being the only one, and because you persist for a while hoping that others will join you, you are noticed by everyone in a 5 row and 10 column radius as the only one clapping. After the fiasco, you know that they are all feeling sorry for you, and for a long while you are convinced that they are all still thinking about it. And let’s face it, they are. They are as embarrassed as you at your discomfiture, you know that, they know that you know, and it’s a general mess.
You are in this situation for one of two reasons. Either because you wanted to start something that several would follow, thereby getting the egoistic satisfaction of being the first one to make an observation that others joined in (and of hence impressing some people around you), or because you genuinely felt like doing it.
It’s always easy if it’s the latter. The entire first para gets cancelled. You feel a glow of satisfaction for doing something you wanted to - and perhaps proud of your public stance if you are conscious of people being around you.
When you do something because you believe in it, you are not concerned or even thinking about if it will make you look stupid, and you will always be secure. And it is people from that mould who usually change the world.
So welcome to Munnabhai 2.
For a good amount of time in Lage Raho Munnabhai, you feel that the makers are making fools of themselves, that they have made a duck. You feel that you may appreciate it, but that the wider masses will not. That there will be jokes among the younger groups about how “burra vaachipoyindi
”, “beje ki vaat laga di
”. There are, too. You just need to be in the men’s toilet at interval and hear the 20-year-olds rapidly passing judgement.
Each of them would have thought differently if he were not part of a group, but in a group, most want to say what they think will make them belong, make them look cool.
However, Lage Raho Munnabhai is the power of conviction. That you can make people even in those groups, people refusing to think independently, change.
Or perhaps, it is about not caring for people in that group. Or any group. It’s just about being idealistic.
It is like Mahatma Gandhi’s belief that non-violence will achieve freedom.
It is like Munnabhai’s belief that if he just follows the Mahatma, he will win.
Lage Raho Munnabhai is nothing like its comic predecessor
. Sure, there are a good number of smart one-liners, several contextual jokes, and there’s lots of borrowing from the concepts of the original. But this one veers more towards Rang De Basanti
than Munnabhai MBBS. 25 minutes into the movie, you are wondering what the hell is happening. 80 minutes into it, you feel like you’ve been compromised. 150 minutes into it, you’re clapping, even if this was nothing like what you expected it would be.
Let’s get to the story – Munnabhai and Circuit are alive and well, and, interestingly, the film has not one frame of reference to the original. For all you care, this could have been Munnabhai 1 - it is technically not a sequel at all. Munnabhai isn’t running any hospital, there’s no woman in his life, and there’s no doctor pa-in-law.
Munnabhai (Sanjay Dutt) is in love with Jahnavi (Vidya Balan), an RJ who airs a show. To get to know her, he participates in a quiz on Mahatma Gandhi on her show, and wins it with help from Circuit (Arshad Warsi), who uses organized terror to achieve this.
When he meets her on the show and she asks him how he knows so much about Gandhi, he commits a cardinal error of starting an emotional relationship, by entering on a false premise – he tells her he is a professor on Gandhism. She is impressed, and asks him to deliver a lecture on Gandhism to inmates of the old age home she runs, the coming Sunday.
Trapped, he now decides he has to actually learn up about Gandhi, and lands up at a library on the Mahatma, and starts spending days and nights there reading without food or sleep. Pretty akin to the original film so far, where he lies that he is a doctor, and has to become one.
On the 3rd night – and this is when the film appears to lose the plot – Munnabhai actually sees Gandhiji. Or rather, his ghost or soul or whatever. He is scared stiff, even if the Mahatma says he is there only to help. But soon he comes to terms with it, and actually uses the Mahatma’s help to deliver the lecture, even impressing Jahnavi enough to fall in love with him.
The Mahatma tells him to confess his true self to her, but he refuses, despite the former’s warning that he is setting himself up for major trouble later. And troubles do come, in a weird coincidence.
When Munna takes Jahnavi and the inmates of the old age home she runs, to Goa for a vacation, the home is annexed by a land-grabber Lucky Singh (Boman Irani), an act performed coincidentally by an unsuspecting Circuit who’s been hired for this by Lucky Singh.
When Munna finds out, he is livid, but Lucky Singh tells him that any attempt at revenge would result in his spilling the beans about Munna to Jahnavi. A helpless Munna turns to the Mahatma for help, who promises him a happy ending if he treads his (the Mahatma’s) path.
It’s tough for Munna, but he starts. First he apologizes to Circuit for slapping him for what happened – a moving scene. Then he starts a non-violent satyagraha – no mean feat for a goon – outside Lucky Singh’s house, with all the old men and Jahnavi. He gets on her show, and, with help from Gandhi, advises various people on their problems, always with stellar results flowing from the path of truth and love.
He rapidly becomes a hit in Mumbai, and uses the show to request people to give flowers to Lucky Singh and wish that the latter gets “well” soon – the implication being that Lucky is mentally ill for wanting to hurt so many old men.
However, it is when he takes the Mahatma’s advice to tell Jahnavi the truth about himself, that all hell breaks loose. Jahnavi dumps him promptly, and he has to use all his intelligence and persuasiveness in the biggest challenge yet - getting her back.
Lage Raho Munnabhai is a commercial feat – trying to demonstrate Gandhian values while still being entertaining. If you do not sit as part of a group that is trying to be funny and caustic, it has the potential to make you a little different. Actually, even if you are.
It is also a feat of courage – it should be remembered that there were some people who originally decided to make a film on what Gandhi was all about, risking today’s instant gratification audiences. At that stage, they wouldn’t have had any idea the film would turn out interesting.
The performances are fab, of course, and so is everything else about the film. If you were to pick nits, however, it’s just to wonder that Munna had the Mahatma to guide him and reassure him that things would be all right if he chose the alternate path. For you and me, the path of truth has no endorsement, and all our reassurance would need to come from within. The toughest feats are performed by those who have only themselves to talk to – it’s always easy if God (or Gandhi) comes and tells you to be good or make sacrifices.
Yes, you feel Munna has the easy way out. Gandhi did not have the same advantage – he did what he believed in, without thinking about how things might turn out.
Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Raj Hirani deserve their success for the same reason.