Munnabhai might have had a thing or two to say about the performative patriotism that has accompanied India’s celebrations of the 75th year of freedom from British rule. To the Union government’s exhortation that every Indian home should fly the national flag, Munnabhai might have retorted that genuine patriotic feeling lies not in grand gestures but in acts of humanity.
Be the change you want to see in the world, a great Indian never said. Yet, this is the sentiment that drives Rajkumar Hirani’s Lage Raho Munnabhai (2006). Written by Hirani and Abhijat Joshi, Lage Raho Munnabhai inventively rescues Mahatma Gandhi from the history books and encourages us to remember him with a big fat grin. The film is available on Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, YouTube Movies and GooglePlay.
Hirani’s sequel to Munnabhai M.B.B.S (2003) sees the wisecracking Mumbai hoodlum Munnabhai (Sanjay Dutt) return along with loyal sidekick Circuit (Arshad Warsi). While posing as a history professor to impress radio jockey Jhanvi (Vidya Balan), Munnabhai finds new ways to apply Gandhi’s teachings to various situations. Gandhi’s call for non-violent resistance converts Munnabhai from fist-waving gangster into armchair peacenik.
The film inventively reframes Gandhi’s philosophy in the Mumbai street patois that is known as Bambaiyya. If Munnabhai can figure out Gandhi, anybody can, the comedy persuasively says.
Munna’s plain-speak – and a nudge from Gandhi, beautifully played by Dilip Prabhavalkar – saves a suicidal taxi driver, exposes a fraud astrologer, and even reforms a nasty builder. Perhaps the film’s most successful application of Munna’s “Gandhigiri” is when a pensioner shames a corrupt government official.
Lage Raho Munnabhai might not be a conventional entry in a list about films with nationalistic themes. Most such films are deadly serious or, as the recent trend goes, needlessly aggressive. What better way to mark 75 years since India has been a free country than by exercising our freedom to laugh? It’s one of the few freedoms we have left in any case.