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November 2006

Zinger comedy sequel even tosses a patriotic curveball

LAGE RAHO MUNNABHAI. Director: Rajkumar Hirani. Players: Sanjay Dutt, Vidya Balan, Arshad Warsi, Boman Irani, Dilip Prabhavalkar. Music: Shantanu Moitra. Theatrical release (Eros). Suitable for all ages.

What a remarkable year 2006 has been for sequels. Water, Krrish, and even Omkara scaled new artistic and technical highs as second (or even third) installments from their respective filmmakers. Now comes perhaps the wackiest and surely one of the most original "sequels" Hindi cinema has ever seen. In all honesty, calling Lage Raho Munnabhai a sequel to the 2003 hit Munnabhai MBBS would be a misnomer. To call it an ingeniously written, well-acted, laugh riot of the year would be far, far more appropriate.

Much like the goofy 1960s' British Carry on Doctor series, here we have the same principals caught red-handed on an alternate groove. The titular Munnabhai (Dutt) is a Mumbai underworld kingpin who develops a schoolboy crush on Jhanvi (Balan), a radio personality and social activist. To win Jhanvi over, Munna enlists help from his faithful sidekick Circuit (Warsi) to morph from a strong-arming thug into a moral, upstanding pillar of the community. In Hirani's capable hands, Munna's mini-odyssey turns into one of the finest-ever Hindi comedies.

The dealmaker for this winning movie is the top-tier script by Hirani and producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra who allow the talented Dutt and Warsi to freely roam all over the story. Additionally, the plot also makes time for Munna's inner patriot to find footing in the form of a chance run-in with the ghost of Mahatma Gandhi (Prabavalkar, as a dead ringer for Gandhi), who then becomes Munna's moral lighthouse. With a zinger-a-minute delivery, carefree performances, and a catchy tune or two, this Munnabhai gels together as very few sequels anywhere have done in recent years.

Dutt and Warsi are the modern counterparts to Dilip Kumar and Johnny Walker. The chemistry between them appears genuine—each relies on the other for support, including rounding out a sentence started by the other in their peculiar brand of criminal-speak. Dutt's and Warsi's well-proven onscreen male bonding adds to the mythology of great buddy pairings—think Bachchan with Dharmendra, Rishi Kapoor, or even Shashi Kapoor.

The Munnabhai series have truly become legendary. The original Munnabhai from 2003 scored a homerun. In a highly unusual turn of events, 20th Century Fox has acquired the rights for that Munnabhai, to be remade in Hollywood by Mira Nair and possibly starring comedian Chris Tucker as lead. To befit an alternate audience halfway around the globe, the Hollywood version has been re-christened Gangsta MD, scheduled for a 2007 release. The new Munnabhai has become one of the biggest box-office hits of 2006 and will likely rope in both Dutt and Warsi for acting accolades. Hirani and company have found a gold-bonded formula for critical and box-office appeal. Bravo! n


Aniruddh Chawda writes from Wisconsin, on America's north coast.

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