Lage Raho Munna Bhai
Hindi with English subtitles.
Running time 145 minutes.
This film is a Bollywood comedy released in 2006, and a surprise hit sequel to a much less popular forerunner. It won thirty-six separate awards from eleven awarding bodies, grossed nearly £8 million in India alone – the highest that year, and was the first Hindi film to be shown at the United Nations. The Prime Minister of India actually cited the film at the launch of the anti-corruption bill of 2006.
Munna Bhai and his brother Circuit are petty gangsters whose ‘house clearance’ business thrives in the corruption of modern India. Munna falls in love with the voice of Jhanvi, the beautiful DJ on a Mumbai morning radio programme. To meet her, Munna has to pose as a professor of history, and to make his story credible he spends three days in a deserted library learning about Gandhi. Bapu’s spirit appears, and Munna begins to take his advice.
One might think that Gandhiji’s ideas of truth and nonviolence do not readily lend themselves to the plot of a Bollywood comedy musical. But they do. And remarkably, the film manages that in an entertaining way. On its release in India, it caused a wave of ‘Gandhigiri’ protests in which people used the satyagraha techniques in the film to solve real-life issues. Two thousand farmers in Vidarbha garlanded the manager of a bank refusing to sanction loans. Flowers were also sent by Indian US green-card applicants, forcing the authorities to speed up the process. In Lucknow, residents protested at a liquor shop being opened near a mosque and a temple by handing out flowers to the owner and his customers.
The plot is slow for the first thirty minutes but exquisitely crafted, and the comedy is sparse to western eyes, though laugh-out-loud funny on occasions. The casual violence toward Munna and Circuit’s innocent victims, and Circuit’s willingness to wield a knife suggests a harshness to Indian street life which is on occasions hard to watch, particularly with the current alarm in Britain over knife-crime. The PG rating is deserved.
I recommend this film to anyone. But to all Gandhi-ists as Munna calls them, it is essential viewing.
Amazon describe it as region 2 PAL DVD. It is actually region 0 TNTSC, though the quality was fine on my UK DVD player.