Lage Raho Munna Bhai

Reviewed By Abhishek Bandekar
Posted 09/01/06 23:03:38

4 stars (Worth A Look)

Underachievement and disappointment are endemic to movie sequels. Very few sequels have actually lived up to the original- only The Godfather and The Lord Of The Rings come to mind. Bollywood, for good or bad, woke up to sequels this year. 2006 has already had sequels to Koi… Mil Gaya(2003) and Hera Pheri(2000) in Krrish and Phir Hera Pheri respectively, and a sequel to Dhoom is coming out this November. Sadly, both Krrish and Phir Hera Pheri had the monkey of underachievement and disappointment on their backs. Thankfully Lage Raho Munna Bhai(Keep Going Munna Bhai), the sequel to 2003’s Munna Bhai M.B.B.S., doesn’t suffer from the curse of the sequels. Probably because it’s not a sequel but the second installment in a continuing series, like the James Bond films or the Bill and Ted adventures.

Munna(Sanjay Dutt) and Circuit(Arshad Warsi), those lovable goons from the 2003 flick, are back in a new adventure. The beauty of the original was its ability to sieve heart-tugging emotions with laugh-out-loud comedy. Such was the impact and novelty in Munna imparting lessons in humanity to learned doctors who’d forgotten the human factor of their profession, that the movie spawned debates and Hollywood even bought rights to remake it as Gangsta M.D.(a first for a Bollywood flick). Writers Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Rajkumar Hirani and Abhijat Joshi retain that essential quality of clean and meaningful comedy, and in fact raise the stakes higher this time by arranging an encounter between Munna and Mahatma Gandhi!

The movie hits it out of the park in the first reel itself, with a side-splitting kidnapping sequence. Circuit kidnaps a Municipal Officer and delivers him to Lucky Singh(Boman Irani), a Punjabi builder. Munna meanwhile is busy falling in love. Munna is besotted by the voice of Jhanvi(Vidya Balan), an RJ hosting the Good Morning Mumbai show. In a bid to meet her in person Munna fakes his knowledge on all things related to Gandhi and wins a quiz, the prize of which is to be a guest on Good Morning Mumbai. Munna leads Jhanvi to believe that he is a history professor, but soon finds himself in a soup when she asks him to address her father and his gang of old cronies a lecture on Gandhi. Left with no alternative, Munna takes it to the books and mugs up all that there is to know of Gandhi and his life. This is where the story steps into the bizarre and reaches a crescendo that it successfully manages to stay at, leaving aside a few unrelated pitfalls. While learning of Gandhi, Munna actually begins to see him in person. Munna has conversations with Gandhi(Dilip Prabhavalkar) while those around him cannot even see him, and why would they? Munna is certain that Gandhi’s ghost has come visiting him for a reason. Soon enough, Munna starts adopting Gandhi’s principles to his way of living. But how can non-violence be the weapon of a goon? This conundrum is the brilliance of Lage Raho Munna Bhai, and in dealing with it the movie touches upon many other issues that concern India today, a time when Gandhi remains a mere portrait and a face on its currency.

The movie is excellent when it is on the Munna-Gandhi track, but the same cannot be said when it chooses to focus on Munna and Jhanvi. Not only does their love seem rushed, the contrivance that the screenplay falls back on to create tension between the two is very lame, as are the gang of oldies. The forgotten elderly are there as an analogy to Gandhi and his forgotten values, but frankly a very obvious one. The movie works best when it doesn’t try to force anything down your throat. Take for instance the wonderfully written scene where an old man tries to reason with a corrupt government official without losing his temper or getting frustrated but by simply demonstrating his predicament and disrobing himself! Munna’s first visit to Mahatma Gandhi Library(hinted at Mani Bhavan) is underlined by a poignant moment of sadness when the old caretaker almost cries at the sight of a visitor keen to learn about Gandhi. In fact Lage Raho Munna Bhai has lesser moments of hilarity than its predecessor, and more moving ones.

Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Maara, one of last year’s little forgotten gem, concentrated on a similar fear of an India that has forgotten Gandhi and ironically used an Alzheimer’s patient as its protagonist. However while that film due to its serious and bleak nature was a bitter pill to swallow, Lage Raho Munna Bhai cleverly guises its message in a placebo of mirth. Gandhi is never dealt with as a historical figure, much less an imposing one. Munna talks to him as he does with anybody else, in his typically street ruffian lingo. As a result, his conversations with Gandhi, be heavy and deep as they may, register an impact without distancing itself from the audience with its weight. Fringe characters like Lucky Singh, Simran(Dia Mirza), Victor D’Souza(Jimmy Shergill) and others become important nodes from where the screenplay branches out into allied areas of interest, never once needing to make any character negative as a counter-point. It is so Gandhian even in its screenplay!

The feel-good element in the Munna Bhai movies is so strong precisely because none of its characters are ever bad; they have flaws but are never evil. Boman Irani’s Lucky Singh is a conniving builder, but is ultimately a doting father to Simran. Boman Irani, having less to do here than he did as Dr. Asthana in Munna Bhai M.B.B.S., is terrific yet again. He slips easily into his Punjabi character and displays peculiar ticks that are a treat to watch. The other actor from the original making a reappearance is Jimmy Shergill who is just as earnest as he was in the previous. One hopes that he’s written a meatier part in the third installment. Various other supporting actors come back in different avatars, and fans of the first will have a good time identifying them. Of the newer lot, Dilip Prabhavalkar makes the most of his role and gives us a Gandhi that we have never witnessed before. Those familiar with this Marathi theatre stalwart’s work know that his supreme asset is becoming the character he plays without falling back on reference points. Dilip does exactly that with his portrayal of Gandhi. His Gandhi is not a cheap impersonation of Ben Kingsley, or a mimic of the several other Gandhi acts that we have witnessed. Dilip plays Gandhi in his own style, and in doing so creates an authentic one. In addition to working on his body language, he has also put in an effort into talking like Gandhi. Kudos to the make-up artist(Vidyadhar Bhatte) who against convention chooses to present Gandhi the way he was, and not as we have been led to believe. Vidya Balan as the love-interest has little to do, but she does well with what she has. Special mention must be made of Vidya’s voice-modulation; she truly sounds like an RJ. Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Saurabh Shukla and Parikishit Sahni turn up in supporting roles. Abhishek Bachchan makes a cameo appearance too!

The two pillars of the Munna Bhai series are, and will always be, Munna and Circuit. Sanjay Dutt returns as Munna and we instantly smile without reason the moment we see him, so endearing has he become. Sanjay Dutt turns in a charming performance, making us fall in love with him all over again. Age has sadly begun to show on Sanjay, but one wishes that he continues to remain Munna Bhai for many more adventures. Arshad Warsi, whose fading career got a shot in the arm with Munna Bhai M.B.B.S., is in splendid form as Circuit for a second time. Arshad knows how important this character is to his career, and it seems that he saves his best for it. Arshad not only recreates the magic of his original act but actually betters it! Circuit is unimaginable without Arshad.

The real hero of the film is Rajkumar Hirani. He’d already shown promise with Munna Bhai M.B.B.S.; he merely cements that tag. Rajkumar Hirani, with only two films, is without a doubt the most promising directors working in Bollywood. The fact that he was and is an editor compels him to think like one when directing as well. As a result Lage Raho Munna Bhai, like the first, does not suffer from lack of focus. Every scene is given just the right amount of time and none less or more. He possesses a rare ability to let a comedy scene smoothly transition into drama and back. He is equally good at directing songs, and is one of those directors who can make an average song look good purely because how it is shot. The title track of Lage Raho Munna Bhai is a love-letter to the city of Mumbai and Hirani captures it with warmth.

My only concern for Lage Raho Munna Bhai is that those hoping for an all-out comedy should not reject it for its preference of emotional and intellectual content over simple and mindless comedy. The makers could’ve compromised and make a product that would guarantee great returns but have made one that they can be proud of, which Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. was. This is Lage Raho Munna Bhai’s greatest triumph.

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