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Some Ramblings - Lage Raho Munnabhai
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla
Lage Rahi Munna Bhai

A wayward and misdirected youth, who seemingly stands for nothing but himself, happens to meet a girl of his liking by chance - and the world was never the same for him from thereon. He mends himself, his ways and his thinking, all for the love of the girl. And as the situation would have it, the girl realizing about the original makeup of the guy, dislikes him and shuns him. He slowly begins to realize the error in his ways, banishes himself to a distant village, where he is mistakenly assumed for a wandering saint and starts to enjoy their support, goodwill, not to mention, a good and a comfortable living. In a great twist of dramatic fate, he gets caught up (rather, entangled) in a local cause, that shaken him to the core, alters his entire belief system and makes him takes sides with the truth at the expense of his mental make-up, his values, and ultimately, his life. This tale, as written by R.K.Narayan for "Guide", does not talk about changing society in broad ideas and vague terms. It recognizes the power and belief of one individual in his morality, good judgement, and important of all, truth, to affect the society in a profound way. Guide is all about internal struggle - the struggle to change, the struggle for good, the struggle for the benefit of the society. The beauty of the story does not lie in the final climactic part where Raju, the tour-guide gives up his life for the villager's illogical and unsubstantiated claim that the death of a saint would definitely bring the rain Gods to their doorstep. The entire premise that Narayan bases his final act upon borders on ridiculousness. It is as ridiculous as the idea that even the toughest of men can be worn down the softest of acts. It is as far-fetched as the thought that the belief is stronger that the strongest weapons in the world. So when the story finally ends with torrential rains drenching the parched lands of the village, it is no longer a suspension of disbelief to accept that the sacrifice of Raju and his will to fast himself unto death until the rain Gods beckon, are just convenient plot devices to drive the story to its dramatic conclusion. The reader by then wholeheartedly trusts the power of his belief and the power of his faith.

Gandhiji's entire life is based on one such unbelievable tenet. Why would the might Empire had to respond, when a frail man in a loin cloth calls for a fast unto death? There were still millions of people around dying everyday. How is his death any different from the rest? What is it that makes the humanity in the hardest of hearts respond to the kindness and goodness, that which otherwise could not shaken by brute force, sheer strength and gross violence? As Gandhiji points out in his autobiography once too often, his chief and the only weapon at his disposal was one of truth. All the powers of strength, faith, belief, stem for that singular aspect that, as history has shown time and again, can move mountains and shake Empires at their foundations. Truth is not subjective, truth is not an opinion, truth is not a perspective - it is absolute, complete and self-contained. Truth is what that prevails at the end, in the face of great opposition and great resistance and truth was the sole why it rained when Raju, the Guide, died.

It is a very bold move to go after depicting the power truth in commercial cinema, without creating convenient situations and without designing scenarios to suit the purpose. It is not a glamorous option when a powerful macho hero turns his other cheek when slapped on one. And it certainly does not earn the applauses of the front-benchers when the villain has a change of heart by experiencing the sheer goodness of the hero. This is a movie that is not supposed to succeed as going after goodness time and again is as unexciting and as tedious as listening to somebody read a book on the screen. Yet "Lage Raho" succeeds in every which way possible; in every which department possible; which brings us back to the power of the truth. Be it in real-life situations or in reel-life, if the intentions are so good-natured and so truthful that sincerety oozes out of its every pore, the effort is going to succeed even with the no assistance from the confrontations, twists, interval bangs and climactic battles. The genius of the script (by Raju Hirani and Abhijit Joshi) lies not just in trusting the power of truth in the mass medium, but marrying such a serious concept to the comedy genre. Even in their earlier attempt in Munnabhai MBBS, the facts that goodness could cure illnesses and random acts of simple kindness can affect people in a profound way, brought out in a fresh and a frothy script, that never takes itself too seriously, while talking about serious issues all the time, endeared to the audience so much so that, the implausibility of the idea, that a gangster could step into a prestigious medical institution and changes its way, never gets in the way of buying into the idea completely.

In just the same way, Munnabhai tackles truth this time. He preaches at every instant. He sermonizes every second. Yet the script's brilliance of backing each sermon with a charming sincerety, and each lesson with a simplicity that is totally disarming, makes "Lage Raho" a very entertaining, thought-provoking, glamorous, commercial and absorbing lecture to the hit screens in recent times. And that is a very unique and dangerous description of a script that the writers were somehow able to pull it off (Contrast it to the tag that most movies purportedly have in plenty - love, action, sister/mother/brother sentiment, drama, comedy and songs and finally ending up with neither). As important as the script was to the working of the movie, without Sanjay Dutt and Arshad Warsi, the movie would still be good, but could not have risen to the heights of greatness that it had. Dutt's contribution to the Munnabhai series (calling "Lage Raho" a sequel to MBBS is akin to terming all the James Bond movies as sequels to Dr.No) is so invaluable, because of the gangster baggage/image he carried through much of his career. And it is this predisposition/preconception of his image that makes the character tick when it undergoes a change of heart (in MBBS) and a change of mind (in Lage Raho). Similarities could be seen in Robert De Niro's portrayal of an angst-ridden gangster who seek psychiatric help to tackle his stress or the same De Niro playing an ever-watchful suspicious ex-CIA dad in "Meet the Parents". Without uttering even the first word, the tag of Dutt (or a De Niro) already adds a lot of color to the character, and wisdom lies in taking that image and turning it over its head to create the charm of Munnabhai. While Dutt's character is tailor-made to his image, it is Warsi's character that relatively tougher, enacting a ruthless, street-smart, yet highly sentimental and totally loyal sidekick to a bag of emotions that is Munnabhai, and it is to the credit of Warsi that he treats Circuit with the same amount of respect that Circuit treats Munnabhai. What Raju Hirani did here was not just creating a couple of gangsters thrown in out of place situations to generate great humor, but he in fact moulded two characters who are finding their humanity and their hearts, trying to better themselves and in the process urging us all to do the same, with each outing. Quite a rare feat for a mainstream fare!

Parting Shot - The concept, that the sequel or a follow-up has to adhere to similar constructs and similar moulds, is, though age-old, a very logical one, when it comes to marketing the movie. Whatever agreed with the audience before would be recreated in the follow-up whether it be jokes, styles, tone etc. Hirani deserves some serious applause here too, for remaining entirely faithful to the original structure of Munnabhai, yet developing a completely original movie out of the same mold. (For every "Jaadu Ki Jhappi" in MBBS, there is "Gandhi-giri" in Lage Raho, for every Dr.Asthaana in MBBS, there is a Lucky Singh in Lage Raho to draw swords with Munnabhai, for every act of kindness and understanding in MBBS, there is a corresponding testament truth and sincerity in Lage Raho). As far as sequels/follow-ups go, Lage Raho stands tall over the rest in both the Hindi and Hollywood worlds without any question, and that is no mean feat for a mainstream fare either.

More Ramblings on films
Superman Returns
The Da Vinci Code
Sri Ramadasu
Rang De Basanti (Hindi)
Jai Chiranjeeva!
Munich (English)
Sarkar (Hindi)
Mangal Padey (Hindi)
Kaadhal (Tamil)
Anukokunda Oka Roju
Batman Begins (English)
Radha Gopalam
Mughal E Azam
Virumandi (Tamil)
Lakshya (Hindi)
Yuva (Hindi)
Kakha Kakha (Tamil)
Mr & Mrs Iyer
Nuvve Nuvve

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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