Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Lage Raho Munnabhai

Note: This one comes really late though I saw the film the day it was released.

When I came out of the theatre after watching Lage Raho Munnabhai, first day matinee show, I could not help but wonder how much of the movie was screwed up so deliberately.

The makers of this film are smart people who know to tell their stories with liberal dose of wit, blending subtlety and goofiness in a rare, seamless fashion.
Take for example, the film’s hilarious start (Boman and Arshad are just superb in this sequence). Or, the brilliant round finish at the end with Lucky Singh posing for a photograph with Gandhi who’s in reality not quite there; just as he usually does, but this time without realizing it, as if to show, he is now acknowledging the presence of Gandhigiri. But, all these moments of wit, craziness and zany humour are just part of a larger canvass – that of the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi, as Munna revisits those ideals.
Well, it’s not all that serious, you say. It’s just comfortable storytelling – of the all’s-well-that-ends-well variety. All conveniently delineated secondary characters get the ‘point’ at some point and reform themselves. Agreed, all’s well, but only if it was funny, which it was, but only in patches here and there. And, I couldn’t help but, yawn a bit, cringe awhile, and wait for Circuit or Lucky Singh to crack me up, as the humour took the back seat and one was subjected to profuse pontification.

Agreed, it’s absurd to question the basic premise of the film, that is, Gandhigiri. Not that Gandhigiri, a rather nicely coined term, itself isn’t of any worth. But, it’s the treatment that is shoddy – turning the film into an elaborate sermon, an all-out mush-fest, letting tears flow at every possible moment. It was neither funny, nor honest. In fact, there’s one particular scene in which Munna helps out one Victor D’ Souza over the radio, listening to which everybody cries their heart out. Everybody – a policeman, a barber, Lucky’s daughter, Lucky’s secretary, a gentleman who’s probably the CEO of the FM channel, Circuit – sheds a tear, two or in copious amounts, at some moment or the other in the film, just listening to a radio show.
It was as if we were being subjected to sixth grade moral science lessons in the name of Gandhigiri. And, the film plays all this acute altruism so straight in your face. Not like, say, an Amélie, in which a lonely protagonist goes about fixing others’ problems similarly in a unique eccentric fashion, but in which we see a man being advised to wipe off the pan spit of his neighbour so that his neigbour refrains from doing so.
Quite thankfully, the film doesn’t always look at the Gandhian ideals with stern reverence. It’s the playful wisecracks of the lead characters on Gandhi’s ideals are the moments that brigtens up the proceedings. Like, when Munna quips Gandhi never told what to do after getting slapped on the second cheek – an old joke alright, but it worked. Or, even better, when Circuit asks the astrologer to rise so that he can say “Sorry!” after making him go almost unconscious. But, these bits of light irreverence are too far apart.

I actually liked Munnabhai MBBS despite all the mush and the underlying message, because it underplayed – or, at least, tried to underplay – them quite well, kept them in check (ah, well, only until the climax starts). And, it acknowledged the fact that the message wasn’t an “all-cure”, thus giving us a mix of naïve altruism and modern cynicism, and just asked us to sit back and laugh.
And, more than anything, the film had Circuit and Dr. Asthana. The role of Circuit was essentially a sidekick with not much of space or screen time. But Arshad Warsi was just scintillating in that role. In fact, he did it so incredibly well that the role demanded more screen time in the second edition. Here, he gets more screen presence – and, of course, he’s fantabulous, by and large – evenly throughout the film, alright, but doesn’t leave us with a similar impact every time.

On a positive note, Boman is superb yet again. He plays the same role as in the previous film in spirit, the role that Munnabhai confronts and “heals”. With an awkward looking beard, and nothing short of hurried characterization, what he pulls off as Lucky Singh is just unbelievable - just the casual winks, nods, hugs or the eccentricities. What a fantastic actor he is! One of the very best around.

It was as if the Rajkumar Hirani and Co. thought Munnabhai MBBS worked mainly because it was a “socially relevant entertainer with a message”, and decided to make this film on a larger canvass of the same, in the process making it much less funny. And, they are proved absolutely right at the B.O., all right.