Today’s TOI Edit page- Mumbai Edition

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It neatly sums up… what the movie does for us. While RDB had the ‘light a candle at India Gate’ syndrome, this movie makes you want to make changes in every day life – dont bribe, dont spit, dont disrespect, be polite, be humble.

Rise Of Gandhigiri
Lage Raho Munnabhai reinvents Gandhi
Sharmistha Gooptu

Bande Mein Tha Dam (The guy had guts), Bandemataram! goes the opening line of a song saluting Mahatma Gandhi in Lage Raho Munnabhai, the immensely enjoyable second part of Munnabhai MBBS, which made the inimitable crooks Munna and Circuit a rage. For the uninitiated, Munna is a small-time ‘dada’ in Mumbai, ably assisted by his devoted crony Circuit. Though kidnappings, extortions and bash-ups are very much their cup of tea, these two have hearts of gold which make them modern-day Robin Hoods, who have their own unique techniques for bringing smiles to people’s faces. Cheeky to the core, they’re nonetheless sensitive where it really matters — they’re the humane face of street-smart India who debunk history and its legacy but cannot discard it.
In their latest adventures, Munna and Circuit take to ‘Gandhigiri’ or living life by the principles of Bapu, as opposed to their habitual dadagiri, after the ghost of Gandhi appears to a hallucinating Munna. It holds a mirror to the gun-toting Munna and tells him to win his battles with a smile. Inspired by the Gandhi way of telling the truth and taking your opponent with a smile, Munna becomes the rage of town, with a following of young people, who find these simple principles the key to their complex lives.
So, was this a goody-goody modern-day take on Gandhi, non-violence, no alcohol and the rest? Not on your life — not when Gandhivadi becomes the Gandhigiri of Munna and Circuit. The Gandhi of Lage Raho Munnabhai is not the historical figure we have been taught to revere for his unflinching moral strength. This Gandhi is like a grandfatherly genie, who appears any time Munna thinks of him ‘from the heart’, and makes for a sympathetic confidant who makes tough decisions appear simple.
It is interesting that in this film Gandhi’s identification is with the 20-plus generation who are most likely to scoff at the Gandhi of their textbooks — that great but boring old man who said uh-oh to sex, no to drinking and seemed uncomfortable with any fun in life. The principles that Gandhians have sworn by become, in this film, hip concepts for getting the best of life. So, a young girl who calls Munna to seek advice on how she should judge a prospective husband selected by her father, is advised, with Gandhi in the background, to check out how the young man treats people who are
socially inferior. And of course, the boy’s condescending treatment of a waiter in a restaurant seals his fate.
Now that was quick and easy, and was it very far from Gandhi’s philosophy of the social uplift of the underprivileged (which is, of course, a much debated issue)? The film works because it strips away the stiff layers of principle from Gandhi and makes available the very basic of his world view. It acknowledges that Gandhi was a great man, who lived by his principles, but that we can’t all be great men like him and neither do we want to. But what we do want is not to forget him and some basic truths that were as relevant in his time as they are today.
So sitting in the police lock-up for staging a satyagraha in front of the wily promoter Lucky Singh’s house (when the easier option of just bashing him up was available) Munna and Circuit bask in their goodness and fantasise of the day when there will be statues of them in parks, their pictures on 500-rupee notes, roads named after them, but not a dry day on their birthdays like on Gandhi’s! For those one can already hear screaming at the film because of its cheekiness, its commodification of the great man and what not, let’s just say this — maybe the Gandhi of Lage Raho has more resonance to us today than the Gandhi in books, whose only relevance seems to be that extra holiday he gets us.
If this film makes Gandhi the flavour of the month, if people below 40 have identified with even the very basics of Gandhi courtesy Munna’s Gandhigiri, it can’t be such a bad thing after all. Even during the nationalist movement, Gandhi was appropriated by people at all levels and in ways that he himself had not bargained for — to the hordes of peasants who flocked to see him, he was Gandhi Baba, a sadhu with miracle powers who had set out to drive away the British.
Had Gandhi lived today, he might have frowned on Lage Raho, or maybe he would have quietly smiled. Who knows? This film comes after a whole bunch of ‘patriotic’ films of recent years where Gandhi figures as some kind of dithering weakling, who could have saved Bhagat Singh and his friends from the gallows, but couldn’t. In fact, Gandhi has been out of favour with under-40 Indians because the Gandhi they know seems too good to be true. Statist discourse has mummified Gandhi making him inaccessible in a fast changing society. Lage Raho reinvents Gandhi for us.
The writer is a PhD student at the University of Chicago.

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3 responses »

  1. I will be honest and say that I had found the original movie flimsy. Even by mindless entertainment standards. The only thing I had liked were individual performances. And that one “Dekh Le” song.

    I will see the reincarnation for the Gandhigiri concept and, of course, Dilip Prabhavalkar. Who knows I might like the reincarnation well enough to re-watch the original.

  2. Why must everything have to be ‘cool’ to be relevant to todays times? It is irritating. I loved the film though. There’s something so simplistic and hopeful about it. Of course, I can find nothing wrong with any Sunjay Dutt film (including Shabd. he he!)

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