Here’s another favorite! I remember waiting for this to come out on DVD. I’d read how well it was doing in Indian theaters, I loved the story concept, and it paired Sanjay Dutt with his father Sunil Dutt, who hadn’t acted in sixteen years. I got it as soon as it was available, and I was not disappointed. In fact, I was bowled over.
This is the first Hindi film I ever saw where I actually laughed out loud and was laughing with it (I’d seen Disco Dancer and laughed too, but at it). Keep in mind that it was 2003 and I’d been watching Hindi films for less than a year; the ubiquitous Comic Side Plot still mystified me and I often felt that culturally I must be missing something that prevented me from understanding the humor. I was beginning to despair.
But this—this was a laugh-out-loud cross cultural fiesta with a squishy dil™!
I don’t know how many people saw this initially outside of India, but after the success of the follow-up film Lage Raho Munna Bhai those who hadn’t should have rushed to see it right away. I actually like MBBS better, although I loved LRMB too. But as the first Hindi film to make me feel like I was “in” on the joke, it has a special place in my heart.
Murli Prasad Sharma (Sanjay Dutt) is a don in Bombay with a gang of loyal—and even lovable—goondas. His right hand man is Circuit (Arshad Warsi), a gold chain-festooned thug who is fiercely protective of Munna (as Murli is called).
Munna and his gang refer to themselves as “social workers” who “recover” money for people to whom it is owed. Munna has his own code of honor, much of it imbibed from his strictly honorable father (Sunil Dutt). He holds his father in awe, and to avoid disappointing him has told him that he, Munna, is a doctor. When his parents visit on their yearly vacation, Munna and his men transform their location into a hospital and themselves into doctors, orderlies and patients.
This year, though, Munna’s dad runs into an old family friend named Dr. Asthana (Boman Irani), whose daughter Chinki (Gracy Singh) was a childhood playmate of Munna’s. She has become a doctor herself and when Munna’s parents try to fix his marriage with her, the truth comes out via Asthana’s housemaid.
Crushed, his parents go back to their village. Munna vows to make his father proud, and to avenge himself on Asthana, by becoming a doctor and getting married to Chinki. He manages to cheat his way into the best medical college in India (where Asthana is dean, and where Chinki works as a doctor too).
Within days, Munna’s cheerful good nature and “take no prisoners” methods have turned the medical establishment upside down. When he points out the inhumanity of making a dying boy’s mother fill out a form before he is treated, Asthana throws him out of class. When one professor jokingly tells him to get his own body for dissection, Munna calls up Circuit and gets one: a Japanese tourist who is not quite dead.
He cheers up a love-lorn suicidal boy by singing a wonderful song (“Apun Jaise Tapori”) about the fickle and fleeting nature of love—“You’ll get over it!” being the message. I love all the songs, and their exuberant picturizations fit perfectly into the film.
Asthana’s daughter—whom Munna hasn’t seen since she was a “fatso with oiled pigtails”—is known in the hospital by her real name Suman; Munna confides in her without realizing that she is Chinki.
There’s a catatonic patient at the hospital named Anand Banerjee (I thought this might be a tribute to Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s classic film whose main characters were named Anand and Dr. Banerjee, but it turns out that I was overthinking it, and it’s just a coincidence).
Munna doesn’t buy the theory that Anand (Yatin Karyekar) is insensate, and begins taking him outdoors to enjoy the sun, gets his hair cut and beard shaved, and jokes with him. When Anand begins to respond faintly to Munna, nobody believes it. But Munna continues to spread sunshine and his mother’s “Magic Hugs” throughout the hospital.
Alas though, his antics—which have by now endeared him to almost everyone else including Chinki—have only further enraged Asthana, who is determined to rid himself of Munna once and for all.
In this battle of wits, who will win? Can Munna make his father proud, and win Chinki’s love too? Will he get his revenge on Asthana?
If you are one of the two people who hasn’t seen this film, you really should. It points out how medicine has become a business these days instead of the healing art it should be, but it’s not preachy. Like Lage Raho, it gets the message across with great big dollops of humor. Sanjay Dutt and Arshad Warsi complement each other perfectly as Munna and Circuit, and the rest of the cast is fantastic. It’s wonderful to see Dutt Sahab in his last role as well; I’m awfully glad he made this film. It’s a fitting end to his long and illustrious career, especially since he shared the screen with his son in one of his best roles ever.
About a week after I first saw this, I had a business meeting with the owner of a company in India that we were outsourcing my job to (true story!). When he discovered that I liked Hindi movies, he told me that a friend of his had just made his first film, and that it was a hit in India. He didn’t think I’d know about it, but of course I did: it was this film, and his friend was Rajkumar Hirani, the director, writer and editor. He put me in touch with Raju, who turned out to be a lovely, down-to-earth and very funny man. Raju was (is) amazed (and by amazed, I mean he makes fun of me) by my obsession for Hindi films, and it is he who convinced me to write this blog. So you can thank him (or not) for it!
It’s also his birthday today, so: Janam din mubarek ho, Raju!