Rs 80. That's the self-imposed limit I've put upon myself to pay for a ticket for a Bollywood film as that's just about the maximum value for money most films are able to deliver; any higher and it just makes sense to rent the DVD instead. So when the only tickets available for Lage Raho Munna Bhai were for Rs 250 (and I had to buy three of them) it seemed a bit much. Despite the fancy seats, the fact remained that I could rent the DVD 10 times over.
But if ever there was a theatrical experience that was worth every penny, Lage Raho Munna Bhai was it. The film scores a perfect 10. In a very, very long time, this is the most brilliant, enthralling, and charming film that elegantly wheedles every emotion out of a willing audience.
At present, Bollywood comedy is a despicable genre with carnal themes and asinine setups as the only ploys used by revenue-driven makers, a fad that is responsible for atrocious fare such as Hungama, Masti, Phir Hera Pheri, No Entry, and an endless list of others. And while I won't question the escape such films provide the audience at large, the cinematic value is negligible. Therefore, I had reservations when I learnt that the sequel to the hilarious but poignant Munna Bhai, MBBS involved Mahatma Gandhi. How could a self-proclaimed Bollywood comedy possibly court the thin line that separates Gandhi's idealism and parody and pull it off without offending at least some section of the audience?
Gandhigiri is what Munna Bhai (Sanjay Dutt) calls it. It's what you get when a foul-mouthed, always inebriated, underworld don is suddenly taken up by Gandhian principles while in the midst of his quest to win his love. Munna Bhai sees Gandhi, talks to him, and gets a plethora of advice from him as he embarks on a mission to put not only himself but also the denizens of the city onto the right path. Hirani does this, not by showing Gandhi as a metaphor or even a ghost, but most scientifically, pins it down to a chemical locha in his brain and even uses it as plot point! And it's not only Gandhi Hirani preaches, the values of friendship, brotherhood, trust and faithfulness are reiterated every single time Munna and Circuit are on screen together. This pair is on course to overtake Jai and Viru as the most popular duo ever.
The plot itself is so simple you'd almost miss it. The one-liner of this film would've been so boring, that had this been a standalone film being pitched by a new director, nobody would've touched it with a bargepole. But Hirani infuses magic in his characters as he constructs and deconstructs the sceneflow like a conductor wielding a baton at a symphonic orchestra. The screenplay is a work of art: every scene is powerful in one way or the other. It seamlessly cycles, scene-by-scene, from being uproariously funny to being passionately moving. Such a sript in these times will only raise the bar for screenwriters in India. It's comic yet sentimental, informative yet inspirational and relevant.
It's hard to pinpoint the better scenes because there is hardly any neutrality, so to speak. But special mention may be made of the Jimmy Shergill track, the library scene where the locha begins, and Munna apologizing to Circuit on the waterfront. And these are only the ones that will move you to tears; when it comes to the laughs, every scene is better than the previous. The scene where the pensioner begins taking off his clothes one piece at a time to humiliate the babu who wants a bribe is very funny yet so hard-hitting. Audiences around me reacted so positively: here was a solution to a common man's problems presented in such a unique yet effective way. There is something for every member of the audience to take away from this film, whether she's a young woman on the cusp of marriage or a 65 year old man who is looking to start life afresh. It's hard to come away from a screening unchanged. Perhaps the only weak link in the screenplay is the love affair that isn't adequately fleshed out and Janvi (Vidya Balan) seems too easily mesmerized by a man so coarse.
Of course, if it wasn't for great performances, even the most ideal script would be no good. Arshad Warsi as Circuit is spot on, picking up from where he left off in the prequel (which is strange, because I read somewhere that on the first day of shoot he forgot how he essayed the earlier role and had to watch the DVD several times to re-figure it out), Vidya Balan is ... not bad ... she is ever-so-slightly over the top and not as versatile as we expected her to be after her first-rate performance in Parineeta . Boman Irani's portrayal as a dirty Sardar is just genius. Little, studied behavioral patterns that he has nuanced proves what a thorough actor he is. Munna Bhai's character is very layered and multi-dimensional but Sanjay Dutt gives it his all to match what the script demands: effectively creating the humor around him, and still very much the respected hero that he needs to be.
The cinematography and editing are so good that you don't notice them. There are no overtly exaggerated or dramatic shots, cuts, or effects that tend to jar the mellow rhythm of the film. The lyrics are well written, the music is catchy (though they stole Pal Pal from Theme for a Dream ) and the songs, though mostly irrelevant to the plot, are congruous to the film.
At one point when Janvi asks Munna Bhai, How do you get by with this street-talk, considering you're a professor? He answers that it's the only language that his students understand and if you're going to effectively teach them anything, it's best in their language. This little exchange mirrors Hirani's real-life intent on using the most popular medium to reinforce Gandhian idealism to an audience from whose memories the Mahatma is constantly fading away to the point where it's almost fashionable to deride him (remember Santoshi's The Legend of Bhagat Singh?) And how gracefully Hirani pulls it off! What a clever, relevant film this is! Remember the times how NFDC and Films' Division continually tried to create and promote socially-relevant films? How that idea transmogrified into (a kind of) parallel cinema and gave birth to many good films by equally good filmmakers (a more recent example in Gowariker's Swades)? But Lage Raho Munna Bhai simply redefines the very concept of such a film. You can have stars, you can have songs and dance, you can bargain with exhibitors and multiplexes (and win), you can have side-splitting humour, your leading men can portray goons and chase girls, and you can STILL make a very effective film with great cinematic value and social relevance! Surely this is genius.
Not only does this film need to be seen, it needs to be seen again. Possibly, 10 times over on DVD.