Missing the point? Conversation ‘Lage Raho’

(warning: this is a movie discussion, hence spoilers included. If you haven’t seen the movie, please do.)

There was an interesting article printed in the Hindu Supplement (Magazine) section, dated 1 October 2006, titled “Nothing Gandhian about it” by Ajit Duara about how Lage Raho Munnabhai is simplistically Gandhian and hence not Gandhian at all. The article in its webform is found here. http://www.hindu.com/mag/2006/10/01/stories/2006100100110500.htm

The article above argues that “the makers of such films… have deliberately dumbed down and simplified “Gandhian values” for an “original” screenplay sequel.” Now, while the author (Duara) has not stated how this act is deliberate, in that the Duara has not proved that the filmmakers knew Gandhian values and deliberately misinformed the audience. However, more pertinently, his contention is that the Gandhian philosophy on display “lacks sophistication” and is dumbed down to “astounding moronic levels.”

Without delving in the author’s arguments too much, I want to agree initially agree with Duara that the movie “dumbs down” Gandhian values. But through that I want to argue that, it is the brilliance of the movie that allows for this “simplification” and uses it for its advantage/impact.

Duara says in his article, “I suppose the logic is that if Munnabhai can appreciate Gandhian values, so can any other idiot in India.” For me, that’s the point. The movie sees Gandhi through the eyes of Munna. If we forget that, we miss the whole movie. The classic scene that floored me (and heralded another remarkable growth in Hindi cinema) was the psychological realism when it is proved, to both the audience and Munna, that the Gandhi that munna sees is a projection of his own imagination, a result of his own reading (and interpretation). That scene alone deserves an award for pushing Hindi cinema beyond where no one has gone before.

Lage Raho does not necessary resurrect Gandhi… but rather gives birth to a new Gandhi… a Gandhi that is reinterpreted by, in Duara’s words, “an idiot”. Yet, the simplistic message comes from a profound philosophical truth

But to prove that this is no accident, the director shows this constantly. Firstly, through the word Gandhigiri, that is typical of Munna’s reinterpretation of Gandhi. Secondly, all the solutions are in fact the inverse solutions to Munna’s earlier (implied) actions. So, the “ulta kar” philosophy of Munna, that so challenges him, is precisely because Munna does ulta as he sees Gandhi would do; not necessarily as the real Gandhi would speak. Thirdly, Munna’s view of Gandhi himself is limited by Munna’s view of what is important. In the wonderful scene with Lucky, Munna and Gandhi on the sofa, Munna’s Gandhi is saying (almost proudly) that it was he and not his killer that is famous; who has statues etc to his credit. Obviously, the real Gandhi (whoever we think he is) may not have said this, like this. But Munna’s Gandhi definitely would. Because, as we see always, Munna does value influence, importance and impact; and he sees Gandhi’s way a better alternative to his own lifestyle.

Hence I argue that the Gandhi and Gandhi’s philosophy in view in Munna Bhai Lage Raho, is not Gandhian Philosophy (rightly pointed out by Duara), but rather Munna’s Gandhi, which according to the message of the movie, is also valid. In fact, the film clearly says that we either encapsulate Gandhi into a picture/book/statue… or alternatively we bring him into our hearts. This bringing into hearts is not a simplistic internalisation of absolute Gandhian truisms, but a living-worldly reinterpretation of Gandhi for today. And the Gandhi in view may not be the Gandhi of old, but it would be a vision inspired by the Gandhi of old… and in that, is the continuation of the Gandhian legacy.

To further highlight this, the ending of the movie, we see Lucky’s Gandhi, whose Gandhi allows himself to be photographed. For Lucky, his Gandhi may also not fit our ideals of Gandhi, but it is Lucky’s Gandhi nevertheless. And there too, I see this not as a fluke, but as an intentional theme of the movie.

I feel Duara is fed-up with people who are saying that Lage Raho resurrected the vision/impact/message of Gandhi. I guess he’s right there.

However, to stop there would be missing the point. Because Lage Raho does not necessary resurrect Gandhi… but rather gives birth to a new Gandhi… a Gandhi that is reinterpreted by, in Duara’s words, “an idiot”. Yet, the simplistic message comes from a profound philosophical truth; that ultimately… all our messages/interpretations of Gandhi mean nothing if not applied as the real Gandhi (and us) may want to.

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Philippians 2:11-13 (NIV) (12)Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (13)for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

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