Lage Raho Munna Bhai: The Mahatma Strikes Back!

Well, some news is actually good!

Like the news that Munna Bhai is back with his friend Circuit to the silver screen! In an unflinching tribute to his beloved late father Sunil Dutt, who is much missed in this brilliant sequel, Sanjay Dutt has made more than acting come alive. Writer-Director Raju Hirani has once again excelled in popularizing the conventionally absurd, eulogizing the most susceptible, and sketching raw feelings with innate deftness of a master filmmaker.

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None of the Mumbai films released this year made much sense this year, with the sole exception of Madhur Bhandarkar’s Corporate, which dealt with feminism’s oppositional intersection with capitalism in a profoundly relevant manner. And in fact, all the rest of the flicks this year, were disastrous experience for someone who has grown up admiring Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt when it comes to Hindi film industry. In fact, the much touted movies like Kunaal Kohli’s Fanaa, and Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna were so pathetic that they deserve entry into the Bollywood Hall of Shame.

Before rushing to ImaginAsian theater, I had a sneak review of Lage Raho Munna Bhai, which did not say much (actually Jason Buchanan got the film’s plot wrong).

Moreover, the film really caught me off guard with introduction of Mahatma Gandhi, considering that with the exception of Kamal Hassan’s Hey Ram (2000), none of the recent movies have treated the Mahatma in a worthy light. In fact, the current crops of Hindi film industry directors have developed some sort of an obsession with making films ridiculing Gandhi and his ideals. So when Munna Bhai got Gandhi as his conscience keeper, it was alarming in the beginning. Indeed, in a scene, Munna came to practice “Gandhi-giri”, and rather displayed some of his own brand of “Dadagiri” to get things done. But as the movie proceeded, there were more complex crossroads between theory and practice that easily left anyone with a deep impression for appreciation.

Just like its predecessor, Munna Bhai MBBS, which radically destroyed the halo around the unholy medicos, this film while actually glorifying the academia, also does its bit to sensitize the fact that no knowledge is good, if it’s not shared. In a bitter way, it denounces the academic elitism of the ivory towers, and the gross arrogance characteristics of the ‘educated’ class, which apathetically witnesses powerful Godmen get away with superstitious spells, and takes active part in promoting such belief structures. It goes even to an extent of patronizing the Marxist analysis of history which is based on mass, not iconic struggles. When an elite history professor flaunts his knowledge on Gandhi, Circuit offers him a slice of his knowledge: history of the misguided youths.

Skillfully done, even the most ardent Gandhian would derive immense pleasure from the absolutely riveting portrayal of the Mahatma. On the flip, devoid of the Kamal Hassan sophistication in filming the Gandhian methods, Lage Raho Munna Bhai may have ended up simplifying Gandhi albeit a bit too much. But looking from the perspective of someone who equates October 2 with a ‘dry day’, the lessons from history is very well learnt with the vulnerabilities and humility intact.

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Sunil Dutt legacy:

Lage Raho Munna Bhai has unforgettable moments of Sanjay becoming a radio personality first, to woo his love, then to spread Gandhian messages, and finally to win back his love. One can only recall that Sunil Dutt indeed began his career as a famous radio personality on Radio Ceylon hosting an extremely popular “Lipton Ki Mehfil” in early 1950’s.

Beyond the obvious, Sunil Dutt would have continued to be proud of his son Sanjay, who has been in the past variously accused in aiding of terrorism cases. Like a statesman of high caliber and integrity that his father was while contesting polls from Mumbai, Sanjay Dutt has always silenced his apprehensive critics through his commitment to social justice instead. Sanjay’s unwavering allegiance to his father’s legacy can be traced in movies of his later career. A little known film “Tathastu” made this year starring Sanjay Dutt also reflects the father-son relationship at most beautiful junctions.

Sunil Dutt and his wife Nargis (Fatima Rashid) were widely known as brilliant leading stars for some of the finest Hindi cinemas of yesteryears. But the part that they have most inspired Sanjay with were their commitment to peoples’ causes. Nargis whose progressive works were well known was nominated to Rajya Sabha by Indira Gandhi herself. And Sunil Dutt, through his commitment to carry on the tasks that Nargis had left behind, joined politics in later part of his career. Contesting from Congress ticket would not have come easy for someone in Mumbai, the stronghold of right-wing Hindu fanatic bosses who continue to have a hold over film industry operatives. And yet, Dutt through sheer dedication in his various involvements at grassroots levels, won from his constituency for five terms and passed away while being at office. Not as a successful politician, rather as a conscientious objector and a secular progressive activist, Sunil Dutt liked to live his life.

Whereas right-wing hawkish Indian political leadership celebrated India’s nuclear state status, it should be remembered that Sunil Dutt went from Nagasaki to Hiroshima in order to condemn nuclear weapons. During Punjab crisis, despite anti-Congress wave, he walked 2000 km with his daughter and others from Mumbai to Amritsar in order to plead for peace. At a time when the country was enamored with being declared a superpower (a kind of ‘dadagiri’ if you may) in the making, Dutt traveled through the entire South Asian region in a peace expedition called “Hands Across the Borders”. More importantly, when Babri Masjid was demolished by the Hindu brigade in 1993, Sunil Dutt resigned from his seat as a Member of Parliament, in an exemplary gesture against the communal politicians. Such was the legacy of Sunil Dutt who led his entire political life fighting the communal elements spreading hate and religious intolerance. A peacenik, secularist, progressive politician, and a relentless campaigner in care for cancer and HIV/AIDS affected.

A lesson worth reliving:
Amidst the much mushroomed Bollywood movie scene that proclaims individualistic love, worse, individualistic infidelities, (of the Karan Johar and Mahesh Bhatt variety), misplaced history lessons of free market youths (like Rang De Basanti, hastily made films about Bhagat Singh), of inundated Diasporic cinema of regressive value (Deepa Mehta range of Fire and Water), of sheer reactionary brand of patriotism (Fanaa, Sarfarosh, Border etc), one has to pause awhile and watch Lage Raho Munna Bhai for whatever it has to offer. Its not just principles of Ahimsa and Satyagraha that rejuvenates the undoubtedly best film of this year, but also the fact that anyone in the world can be a Mahatma, and indeed many already are Mahatmas through their committed lives for the sake of others. These Mahatmas are ordinary people like Munna and Circuit who even reform themselves to incorporate Gandhi’s talisman which behooves on us to take steps for the poorest of the poor and to behave appropriately to bring happiness in lives of people we otherwise consider ‘lower’ than us.

For a generation of Indians who take fancy in opposing reservation policies for the oppressed class of people, for those youths who take great pride in their ‘superior’ religions and ‘higher’ castes; for those youths who take pride in their ‘high culture’ sophistication in pursuing ‘cleaner’ high society life, those who gloat in their higher ‘merit’ academic lifestyles, and for those arrogant and innocent and cool and the chic, Lage Raho Munna Bhai will probably provide the greatest lesson of life. This film is the quintessence of the Marx and the Mahatma.

A must-see. A must-felt movie.

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Author: Saswat Pattanayak

Journalist, Generalist, Atheist, Poet, Lover, Photographer, Communist, Third wave Feminist, LGBT ally, Black power comrade, Peacenik, Anti-capitalist, Critical media theorist, Radical film critic, Academic non-elite…

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