Lage Raho Munna Bhai was released 15 years ago. It propounded ideas of brotherhood, forgiveness and non-violence. But how pertinent are our takeaways from the movie in the present context?
Lage Raho Munna Bhai, the sequel to Rajkumar Hirani’s beloved Munna Bhai MBBS (2003), was released in 2006, fifteen years ago in September. The iconic duo Munna (Sanjay Dutt) and Circuit (Arshad Warsi) returned to reprise their roles in the second instalment, set in a new universe. This time around, contract goon Munna abducts professors from Mumbai colleges to help him win a quiz, and subsequently radio host Janvi’s (Vidya Balan) heart.
The topic — no points for guessing — is Mahatma Gandhi. Munna wins the quiz and is invited as a guest on Janvi’s show. Only, he lies about being a professor, and is tasked with panelling a discussion on the feasibility of Gandhism in contemporary times. Director Rajkumar Hirani eases us into the theme of the movie through the premise of the radio presentation, and this show becomes the microcosm of the world Hirani wants his viewers to immerse themselves in.
How effective is non-violent resistance in a system skewed to protect the powerful? Hirani’s film creates set pieces that underscore the power of passive dissent. He convinces a superstitious businessman to get his only son married to a ‘manglik’ woman. He prevents a contractor from illegally usurping a building. But let us examine these sequences again. Munna’s takedown of superstition is not as much a critique of Hinduism as it is of astrology. This is important to understand Munna’s milieu. He does not intend to expound theories — he’s a man of the streets, and the smarts he’s acquired is because of his profession. He is, indeed, not a professor. Neither is Hirani, who uses the charismatic Dutt to put forth his own understanding of Gandhian principles.
During Munna’s first speech at the ‘Second Innings’ residence, he launches a diatribe against the systemic failure of the government to provide for essential services. By then, he had already started hallucinating about Gandhi’s reemergence. His voice escalates as the dormant anger threatens to spill over — but while his listeners break into thunderous applause, Munna looks over to notice that Gandhi’s apparition has vanished. It’s only fair to assume then, that Munna himself becomes conflicted about his principles. He is a thug, who only ever employs violence to get tasks done. The moment he starts disapproving of his own aggression is when Bapu reappears in his imagination.
But the film operates under the assumption that the world is a level-playing field, and things will turn around if you persist. It tweaks Dumbledore’s advice to Harry Potter just a little — that help will only be provided if you help in return. Lucky Singh’s (Boman Irani) change of heart comes as a result of Munna convincing the aforementioned superstitious man to allow his son to marry Lucky’s daughter. By favouring the transactional nature of Lucky and Munna’s relationship, Hirani contradicts his own ideas of justice and fairness.
Lage Raho Munna Bhai is smartly didactic— from teaching the subtle art of ushering a waiter at the restaurant, to persuading spitters to not litter outside apartment doors, to even getting a retired man his pension — every subplot is choc-a-bloc with life lessons. But if an eye for an eye makes the world blind, then what does a deal for a deal indicate?
Rajkumar Hirani’s brand of films tug at the heartstrings for a reason. They are naively optimistic. Although Munna Bhai MBBS had a beloved character passing away. there was bountiful positivity to handsomely compensate for the grief. Lage Raho Munna Bhai is arguably kinder to its audience, with stakes never as high as in its predecessor or a 3 Idiots. But his films are also reductive — they discount practical constraints like human nature. A Lage Raho Munna Bhai is a balm for the chafed soul — only it begs to ask if such a film is indeed a reality check for cynics hardened by logic. It could be; after all, movies are meant to suspend one’s disbelief and trust the freefall into relentless hopefulness.