Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Lage Raho Munnabhai*****

In my media and entertainment business-oriented inclinations, cinema is a very powerful media tool, especially more relevant for the Indian market where the reach of the really influential and conventional mass-media can get rather restricted. That is why, I think there has to a meaningful match of art (saraswati) and commerce (laxmi) in any media product, even a newspaper. After all, if I have to write only for myself, I might as well blog for free, and maybe share it with my friends (one of the main reasons why the Internet has revolutionised our lives so much, by giving every joker worth his salt, his day under the sun). If I decide to make this blog commercial, then I have to accordingly modify content which will allow it to find its own market (if there is one).

Maybe that's why I was not as impressed by Munnabhai MBBS as the rest of the country. It was definitely a fairly intelligent comedy, unlike the slapstick which David Dhawan and his ilk have propagated. However, the sheer mockery and the subversion of the medical entrance system which Munna and his goons indulge in, left my responsible self cringing. After all, this is an exam we are discussing which makes-and-breaks the career, even lives, of people.

The second part of the story, Lage Raho Munnabhai, is a vast improvement for me. The movie is not a sequel, but is actually a franchise in the true Hollywood sense of James Bond, Pink Panther, and so on. This home-grwon franchise is built around two of the most affable characters ever created in Hindi cinema, Circuit and Munnabhai (in that order). And like in James Bond films, there is absolutely no mention of the romantic interest (and other familial leads in the Indian context) from the previous film.

The film's plot is basic and simple, and as my previous post mentions, spinning a close-to-three-hour yarn from this plot is absolutely mind-boggling. The genius of Hirani, the writer and the director, comes to the fore in the brilliantly imaginative use of Gandhi. The idea is Munnabhai crams up on the 'Father of the Nation' so much, that he actually starts hallucinating that he is seeing Bapu in blood-and-flesh. Gandhi becomes his conscience, when he converts from Dadagiri to Gandhigiri to fight for the rights of his beloved's property. The idealistic relevance of India's single biggest hero from the AD era is brought to the fore. The fact that Gandhi is still a disease for Munna (chemical locha as it is called in the flick) makes the movie more real. The discovery of the disease, by Gandhi being able to answer only those questions whose answers Munna knew, to my mind touches on the traditional Vedanta philosophy of there being a God (or Gandhi?) inside all of us.

Lage Raho.. overtakes Rang De Basanti as the year's best Hindi film, and I thought that would have taken some doing. In fact, the similarities between the two flicks are uncanny:
- Both use two (conflicting) ideologies of our pre-independence eras heroes to establish a context for today's times. Both Bhagat Singh and Mahatma Gandhi were excellent and very successful communicators, in an era when the comtemporary means of mass-communication which we tend to take for granted were under-developed, more so in unindependent India.
- Both films use the power of the mass-media, viz. radio, to establish the message of the heroes. And the vehicles chosen for the same are rather quaint - early morning band of AIR, and Worldspace Radio in Mumbai.

The irony arises as the more realistic RDB recommends an anarchic, violent and possibly unreal solution, while the comic Munnabhai recommends a more practical and implementable solution. However, what both definitely do is to remind us of our heroes from the early part of the last century, and force us to have a fresh look at their beliefs and principles.
Hirani also touches on lots of everyday relevant topics, like the father-son conflict, and how to go about an arranged matchup (sounded a bit too simplistic). The strongest statement is on astrology, and other such superstitions. I have very strong viewpoints on the same, as I have once had a heated argument on the same subject, with a colleague whose views matter to me. Astrology is a brilliant science, as it tells us something about the future which could, or should not have been told in any manner whatsoever. However, it also happens to be a very inexact science, so when people get besotted, it can lead to total inaction, or plain stupidity (as shown in the film). After all, Hindu mythology allows for destinies to be changed through right actions and beliefs, ala Savitri & Satyavaan.

Sunjay Dutt, after playing underworld henchman and don throughout his filmy (and real) life, has found his most memorable Bhai portrayal so late in his career. The franchise has also given a fresh lease of life to one of our most talented actors, Arshad Warsi (loved him in his debut flick Tere Mere Sapne). In Lage Raho.., Arshad is in even better form, and he also gets the best lines.

Vidya Balan looks different and refreshing, unlike most regular leading actress. However, my worry is her girl-next-door appeal will always restrict her range of roles. I also don't think she is a great actress, she has been just competent in both her flicks (Parineeta could have possibly done better with a female performance to match Saif's). Rani Mukherjee also suffers from the same restrictions of looking too regular for the big screen, but her acting prowess (and better networking) has possibly allowed her to have a wider variety of roles.

Chopra and Hirani repeat almost the entire ensemle starcast of the original Munnabhai, and Parineeta. So the jhappi-waala sweeper finds a role as the keeper of the Gandhi library, Jimmy Shergill reprises another vital cameo, and Dia Mirza gets to play again a small cutesy role. A non-descript Marathi actor, Dilip Prabhavalkar, plays Gandhi, and he is good for the role's requirement.

The best performance easily comes from Boman Irani, who has got the subtle nuances of the Sardar character, in terms of body-language, facial expressions, just bang on. Irani's career-graph has an uncanny similarity to Anupam Kher. Both started off in relatively meaningful cinema (check out Irani in the multiplex flick, Let's Talk), and then started off acting in masala movies (in Kher's case, by the dozen). The original Munnabhai gave Irani mass-popularity, and it is a sign of changing times in the new century that Irani has still managed to portray different characters in movies like Being Cyrus.

I thought the music of Munnabhai MBBS sucked, and Shantanu Moitra (of Yehaan fame) has done a much better job in Lage Raho. The songs are not actually memorable, except for the Gandhi track, Bande Mein Tha Dum. Sonu Nigam has rendered it superbly, and actually made me buy the soundtrack only for it (can't believe I actually did so). I also love situational, conversational songs, so Samjho Ho Hi Gaya scores high for me, and also has been picturised well. Even the title song has been used relatively imaginatively, as Munna and Circuit discuss the unknown-girl. Pal Pal has been filmed disappointingly, in fact the tune is lifted from a Cliff Richards' song (sorry for showing off but I rarely get to do that in music).

2006 happens to be the centenary of the launch of Mahatma Gandhi's satyagraha. Besides, in a recent interview on television, Raju Hirani had mentioned the one movie that changed his life was Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Anand (have already documented my love affair with the man and the movie in the previous post). So there could not have been a more fitting tribute to both - Mohandas and Hrishikesh - than the one Messrs. Hirani and Chopra pay. Lage Raho, Bhaiyon!


svety said...

hey abhi, finally. About time.
As usual ur review is extremely engaging.

Don't agree with quite afew things but those are ur personal preference vs mine so no sweat.

Completely agree with ur thought, it seems as if the whole pre independence ideological questions are being raised again. A bhagat Singh vs a Gandhi, the extremist vs the moderate (although to me Gandhi was no moderate, he was the soul of the alternative that went onto become the central movement). And, I don't think RDB "recommended" anarchy.
And, yes Circuit rocks. My personal favourite of last yr was Sehar. So, Warsi rocks

Abhigyan said...

well wld be great to debate what all u don't agree with...i don't really like sagarika ghose, but she had ripped apart RDB (for the narachy i mention - just imagine all of us shooting the rulers we don't like, do we get so sure in real life).
on munnabhai, she had some valid comments, of how gandhi even then, and even now, is an anomaly. we wld have allowed pakistan tp take siachen and kargil if we happened to be gandhians. but remember, even in the movie, munnabhai hits back after getting slapped twice (the joke is bapu had no instructions after getting slapped on both cheeks). just goes to make the flick that much more real.

svety said...

Things we can have a debate (dn't like the word) on :

1. Munnabhai MMBS was an extremely relevant comic satire on a system that has gone down the broker's pocket. And a complete discourse on the single biggest thing missing from the medical system today - emotion. Doctors can't afford emotion. Bullshit.
The sheer mockery and subversion (as u so correctly put it) is a reality and as basic a requirement as passing ur 12th exam. Often, movies are made not to toe logic but to dramatically put up issues that need resolve.

2. Vidya Balan, to me, is an extremely competent actress.She stood out and became the focus of attention in every frame of Parineeta. Another actress doing her bit to stand up to Saif,,? Not needed man. They had brilliant chemistry.

3. RDB did not recommend anarchy. Period. It showed a public issue becoming personal and people reacting to protect their ilk. That we chose to equate it to the angst around us makes the movie all the more relevant. That we choose to question the modus operandi shown is hope enough for me. Not anarchy but definitely a strong appeal to stand up and be counted. Today Munnabhai is more aggreable because it is more doable. Its inverting the macro to look inward into the self. Whereas RDB was amlifying the personal into the public, mass realm. The latter is always a difficult task to do as u work with not one consciece that of urself but a few million ethical codes.

4. And, "Dekh le ankhon me ankhein daal" and "chanda mama so gaye, suraj chachu jaagey" rocked

But, as I said, the debate only exists if I want to try to coerce/convince/persuade u into my way of thinking. I don't.
Waise bhi apna phillum dekne ka tarikka tere tareeke se bahut different rehta hai mamu....

Abhigyan said...

I agree, that it was an intelligent comedy, it just glorified the mockery of entrance too much, and too easily. Maybe I need to lighten up to enjoy. I also liked the original 'Dekh Le', rest sucked. And unfortunately, have just heard the remixed version of dekh le in pubs etc..
Vidya Balan had a great chemistry with Saif, they look gud together even in hte promos of Eklavya. But still, Parineeta called for a slightly more layered performance, it was a fairly complicated character. She was gud, not great.
And Gandhigiri is even more impractical than RDB. After all, it is easier to blow up stations, than wait for the other person to get convinced thru Satyagraha.

xanjukta said...

WHERE IS THE REVIEW FOR DON??? How long will it take? Please please please write it soon, cos i don't think i'll be able to see any film until December...

Abhigyan said...

Don to door ki baat hai, abhi to Dor bhi nahin aaya..and I have seen Jaaneman too..

Have been so busy.. I guess will have to increase the capacity to blog