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Munnabhai's tryst with Gandhigiri

For me, as for most students of my generation, Gandhi has meant no more than a chapter in our history books. His charisma was frozen in time. October 2 was the only day we recalled the contribution made by the Father of the Nation. We needed some way to retrieve him.

That something came in the form of the recent film Lage Raho Munnabhai. Despite being a sequel to a sidesplitting Munnabhai MBBS, Lage Raho. received much wider recognition because it re-invented Gandhi in a totally different way.

Gandhi's tryst with celluloid began even before Independence, with films like Thyagabhoomi, Punjab Mail and Bhagya Leela hitting the theatres in the early years. The first full-fledged biographical tribute to the Father of the Nation came in 1982 with Richard Attenborough's Gandhi, which swept as many as seven Oscars.

Lage Raho Munnabhai, released in September 2006, opened up a new chapter on Gandhi. Unlike the much-talked-about Attenborough film, which was a biographical sketch straight out of the history books, Lage Raho.shows how Gandhi's ideals blend perfectly even with the rogue, Munnabhai.

Munnabhai and his sidekick, Circuit, creatively establish that 'Gandhigiri' is not a process far removed from the everyday. It's not just a historical tool that won us independence. It's a way to solve the little as well as the big problems in our everyday lives.

Why does it surprise us that the film should have had such mass appeal? After all, Gandhi's path of truth and non-violence was hugely popular with the masses in pre-Independence India. Though he never imposed his teachings on others, the masses were quick to adopt them. People suffered the British firings and lathi charges, yet they didn't respond violently. Finally, with his weapons of non-violence, peace and truth Gandhi was able to drive the British out of India. In Lage Raho. Munnabhai uses 'Gandhigiri' with the same vengeance as 'dadagiri' to defeat his enemies.

But most of my classmates believe that 'Gandhigiri' is, at best, comic relief. And that true Gandhism cannot survive in today's India. Gandhi's non-violence is not relevant today. Today's youth probably relate better with another recent hit, Rang de Basanti, about a group of young boys who take up violence to avenge the death of their friend.

According to a friend of mine, Mohit Singh, Rang de Basanti is a fast-paced action movie, whereas Lage Raho.is slow and funny. Another friend, Devyani Rai, says Rang de Basanti is a forceful movie that has inspired people to take to the streets to fight for justice for Jessica Lal. Both agree that the impact of Rang de Basanti is instant, whereas Lage Raho.leaves a long-lasting impression on our minds.

Despite the various opinions about Lage Raho Munnabhai, the film has been a sell-out. Why do we love it if it is not relevant to our times? Why are we talking so much about Gandhi if the Father of the Nation has lost his relevance? The answer is simple: because there is a Gandhi in each one of us.

--Sushant Sharma

(Sushant Sharma is a student at Apeejay School, Pitampura, Delhi)

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