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Our answer to Laurel and Hardy?

SANGEETHA DEVI. K

`Lage Raho Munnabhai' follows in the footsteps of the cult film. Munnabhai, a professor of history, and his sidekick Circuit, have a tryst with Mahatma Gandhi.



LOONY PAIR Sanjay Dutt and Arshad Warsi

Revisiting a cult movie is the toughest thing directors and producers can subject themselves to. Producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra and director Rajkumar Hirani mulled over it before taking the plunge. "To think that there were no buyers for Munnabhai MBBS and then the film going on to become one of the biggest success stories, is amazing," recollects Chopra, ahead of releasing Lage Raho Munnabhai. This time, Munna is on a mission: in love with radio jockey Vidya Balan, he assumes the role of a history professor to woo her. Helping him is his ever-dependable aide, Circuit. Their journey involves a `rendezvous' with Mahatma Gandhi!

`Jadoo ki jhappi'

"It's another episode in the lives of Munna and Circuit," says Rajkumar Hirani. Barring Sanjay Dutt and Arshad Warsi who remain Munnabhai and Circuit, every other actor dons a new role. Boman Irani isn't Dr. Asthana but Lucky Singh, a flamboyant builder for whom money matters the most. In his spare time he forges photographs, so you see him brushing shoulders with George W. Bush! Even Jimmy Shergill, who breathed his last in the earlier venture, has a cameo. Shergill says, "I have one pivotal scene. In Munnabhai MBBS too, I had a short role. But what a memorable one among the films I've done till date. When Rajkumar called me again, I didn't even want to hear what he had in store for me."

"We want to make a series of Munnabhai films. Initially, the fear of matching up to the first one weighed us down. We decided to approach this one as though the first film didn't happen," says Chopra. That was easier said than done. Because, Munnabhai not only changed lives for those involved in the project - the key actors, dialogue writer Abbas Tyrewala and even the elderly man playing carom - but also touched thousands of lives by advocating jadoo ki jappi with the doctor's prescription. Hirani explains, "Lage Raho... deals with larger issues, including a way of life that we've stopped following.

"Writing Lage Raho... took me and Abhijit Joshi two years. Abhijit is US-based and we worked through phones and e-mails," says Hirani. Till date, hundreds of people have told him how much Munnabhai touched their lives.

"There were so many moving stories - from village boys spending time with a desolate, ailing elderly man to friends coming together to help a student battling for his life. We felt more responsible to people. After Munnabhai MBBS, I was writing another story and got stuck. During one of my morning walks, I wondered how it would be to have Munna as part of my new story. Suddenly everything appeared light, comic and feel-good. I ploughed on the thought. I was sceptical about people's reaction to Boman, Jimmy and others playing different roles. Around 500 people have already seen Lage Raho and loving it. Since the film is fast paced, they don't pause to think of the earlier film."

Lage Raho... has glamorous additions to its cast - Vidya Balan and Dia Mirza. "I play a good looking, vivacious and non-frivolous radio jockey who signs off with a thought for the day. A girl of today, she speaks her mind and mobilises people through her shows," says Vidya, adding, "Sanjay, Boman and Arshad are unbelievable. I saw the film and cracked up. Thankfully I didn't have comedy scenes. I'm more of a trigger for the comedy."

As for Dia who plays Boman's daughter, Hirani calls her the film's surprise package. "She surpassed my expectations, proving that actors give their best when motivated."

Boman hopes people will like his Lucky Singh avatar, for which he spent a month observing the mannerisms of the Punjab fraternity running the automobile spare parts business in Mumbai. "The man on the street still calls me `mamu.' I cannot forget how the Munnabhai euphoria spilled on to the streets. Vaat lag gayi hai and mamu never sounded so cool," he recalls.

If Lage Raho... succeeds, we'll see a third Munnabhai movie. "Munna and Circuit can be like Laurel and Hardy of Indian cinema. But for now, I'll make a different film and take a breather from Munna and Circuit. They drive me nuts," laughs Hirani.

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