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The Munnabhai phenomenon

india Updated: Sep 02, 2006 19:15 IST
Highlight Story

The sort of emotional chord that the affable Munnabhai and his comic sidekick Circuit have struck with moviegoers in this country is without precedent in the history of Hindi cinema.

The on-screen duo’s appeal cuts across viewing patterns and audience profiles in a way that promises to help their breezy exploits last beyond just a film or two. So as the multiplexes gear up for the release of

Lage Raho Munnbhai

, three years after the super success of

Munnabhai M.B.B.S.

, it might not be too fanciful to expect a third instalment sometime soon.

Not since Amjad Khan’s Gabbar Singh sprang right out of the confines of Ramesh Sippy’s curry western, Sholay, and assumed a life of his own in the nation’s collective mindspace has a screen character had as huge an impact as Murli Prasad Sharma alias Munnabhai, a Mumbai goon out to have fun even as he has his way with the world.

Gabbar was Evil Incarnate and so his ultimate influence was inevitably somewhat limited. Munnabhai, a denizen of the underworld that is shorn of the grit and grime of stark reality, takes viewers on unbridled flights of fancy in keeping with the Indian filmgoer’s need for paisa vasool entertainment.

But Munnabhai M.B.B.S. was no run of the mill Bollywood entertainer. For one, it was anything but exploitative. And two, it was driven by a simple-minded spirit of humanism that gave the film a veneer of clean, wholesome fun.

Sections of the medical fraternity may have taken umbrage to the way doctors and the institutions they run were made fun of, but the fact remains that Munnbhai M.B.B.S. wasn’t the least bit offensive. It blended farce, parody and gentle but hugely effective emotional manipulation to create a sharp social satire that worked without leaving behind too many unwanted gashes.  

Munnabhai M.B.B.S. carried its audience along. Lage Raho Munnabhai will click only if it repeats that feat all over again. Of course, expectations will be much higher this time around and audiences will be looking for something more than Munnabhai M.B.B.S. had offered.

One thing that will certainly work in favour of the second Munnabhai film is the instant recognition factor. Sanjay Dutt has made the eponymous character his very own. Arshad Warsi as the volatile, never say die Circuit has become the perfect foil to the relatively taciturn Munnabhai. The remarkable chemistry between the two actors has quickly assumed the proportions of a cult.

Director Rajkumar Hirani simply needs to do is tap into that synergy to whip up a comic romp, drawing power from situational gags rather than laboured double entendres. If he can do that, Munnabhai has the potential of yielding Bollywood’s first ever full-fledged big-screen comic series.

Decades ago, I.S. Johar and Mehmood had tried something similar with Johar Mehmood in Goa  (1965) and Johar Mehmood in Hong Kong (1971), although the two films had the duo play separate pairs of characters. In the first film, they were Ram and Rahim, in the second Ramesh and Mahesh.

Johar and Mehmood were, of course, inspired to an extent by the runaway success of UK’s Carry On series, which yielded as many as 30 films between 1958 and 1978, and the Doctor quartet, which saw thespian Dirk Bogarde achieve mass popularity in the role of Dr. Simon Sparrow. But the Indian comedians, unlike their British counterparts grounded in a heritage of music hall romps, were working without an established indigenous tradition of long-running comic adventures. So the Johar-Mehmood experiment died a natural death.

In more recent times, David Dhawan tried to create a Jodi No.1 with Sanjay Dutt and Govinda playing small-time crooks chasing fast bucks and easy girls. The film was a huge success. He cast them in similar roles, though not as the same characters, in Ek Aur Ek Gyarah, which was released in the same year as Munnabhai M.B.B.S., but the effort proved to be a damp squib.

By all indications, Lage Raho Munnbhai has to potential to defy history and pave the way for Bollywood’s first bona fide comic series.    

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