Arindam Chaudhuri
[October, 2006]

First things first. I saw Lage Raho Munnabhai and enjoyed it totally. I was in splits almost throughout the movie and even had tears in my eyes just before the interval... and I am glad that the silly myth about sequels not working got broken twice over this year itself (earlier with Krrish), for, a good film works – sequel or no sequel. Further, I promise I am not one of those with an extremist bent, who want the film out of the halls for insulting the father of the nation. Every filmmaker has a right to express his version of ideologies or (even for the sake of commercial viability/comic relief) use Gandhi the way they want to, in – one can only pray – an aesthetic manner. If Rang De Basanti used the legends of Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad to arouse patriotic feelings in a revolutionary manner, Lage Raho does try its bit to espouse the merits of Gandhism in a light-hearted manner (I hope the filmmakers originally had that as an aim, apart from the intelligent and successful attempt at using Gandhi for complete non-serious laugh riot).

However, there are other problems with such fast food oversimplification (It often becomes junk!); and bigger problems of making it all comedic. Forget carrying the message back home, one doesn’t even get the message in the first place. And that’s where, for me, the prequel Munnabhai MBBS scored – with a tighter script and the right mixture of comedy. It did help me carry the message back home, that doctors need to have a heart. This time around in Lage Raho, the message gets completely lost in the humour... so much so that you want to see more of Circuiteshwar & Lucky Singh, than Gandhi. There wouldn’t have been a big issue of the message getting lost (Who cares, in any case, for a message when he goes to watch a Hindi film, specially when it is such an entertainer), had it not been for the fact that the message in question pertained to none other than the most revered historical figure of India. Even that wouldn’t have been a problem, had it not been for the almost fanatical ongoing media frenzy about the revival of Gandhi’s ideologies through Lage Raho...

I do wish that lampooning a Sanjay Dutt around an unreal storyline could help revive Gandhism... wish it were really so simple. Sadly, it’s not. And now, the ongoing media hoopla only makes me worry that the media over-excitement is giving completely wrong signals to a generation which, as it is, knows very less of the great leader that Gandhi was. Slotting Lage Raho as merely being an exciting film to watch is perfectly fine, but trying to confuse Gandhism with the way it has been portrayed through Gandhigiri – a joke, a comic relief and a ‘brain mein chemicals ka locha’ – is disastrous!

As a student of Gandhism and having extensively used his philosophy in my workshops and books, to me, what made Gandhi the greatest leader ever born in the history of India’s tryst with foreign rulers and political slavery, was not just his commitment to getting India independence, but his supreme understanding of India’s culture and ancient scriptures and literatures like the Gita, leading to his equally competent understanding of human behaviour. He dissected the British and Indian psychology perfectly. He knew that unlike in the rest of the world, in India, at a mass level, appeals for violent revolutions have had no takers due to the centuries-old well developed legacy and culture of spiritualism, tolerance, peace and harmony. In front of his own eyes, Gandhi saw the failure of the legendary Subhash Chandra Bose (despite his brave heroics) in garnering support of Indians en masse with his revolutionary war cry – “Give me blood and I’ll give you freedom.” Though incapable of giving blood en masse due to their history and culture, Indians of his time, Gandhi knew, were of high character and were committed to the cause of freedom. He further knew that the British were no ruthless French or Hitler’s Germans – they had an 800 year old system of true democracy and judiciary. All these things put together made him conceptualise his theory of non-violence; and thus he became the only leader in Indian history to have been able to bring thousands of Indians out on the streets – pan India – for a common cause; freedom.

Today’s India is, of course, a changed place. The Congress might have started with pristine Gandhian ideology and concepts of ethics and democracy, but certainly failed to put the judicial system in the right gear, leading to easy criminalisation of life. Over time, every state the Congress lost elections in, got taken over by neo-vandals and dictators, who used complete muscle power and goondagiri to retain power (and therefore, the Congress finds it difficult to get back to power in all these states today). The people, too, in the process, lost their character and ethics in a criminalised system with a semi-paralysed judiciary. Gandhism, unfortunately, stands no chance when the state is oppressive, judiciary virtually on strike, and people finding corruption an intelligent option to live by. It serves us well to let Gandhigiri remain just a comic relief, rather than get carried away and create illusions around it. To give real Gandhism a chance, we need the government to first overhaul the electoral and judicial systems in India, and provide citizens with an environment where democracy and an efficient judiciary exist and allow citizens to retain their values, morals and character.
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