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VIEWPOINT

Nothing Gandhian about it

AJIT DUARA

Does "Lage Raho Munnabhai" really preach the Mahatma's values?


It is the older generation, the makers of such films,who have deliberately dumbed down and simplified "Gandhian values" for an "original" screenplay sequel.

PHOTO: AFP

Commentary on our times: The film is funny and entertaining but that's all there is to it.

IT is a commentary on our times that, 58 years after his assassination, the accomplished cultural sophistication and political genius of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi has to be dumbed down to the astoundingly moronic levels of "Lage Raho Munnabhai". I suppose the logic is that if Munnabhai can appreciate Gandhian values, so can any other idiot in India.

Sure, the movie is funny and entertaining and sure Sanjay Dutt and Arshad Warsi make the greatest comic team in cinema since Laurel and Hardy.

But if you had never heard of M.K. Gandhi till you saw the film you would come out of the theatre believing that he was this passive fellow who always turned the other cheek, solved problems by saying sorry to people and shaming them into better behaviour, got rid of the British by wearing a dhoti and horn-rimmed glasses, told the truth to scoundrels until they stopped telling lies.

Gandhi's legacy

On the contrary, M.K. Gandhi's greatest legacy to India and the world was a form of political agitation called "civil disobedience", which frequently did lead to violence but which was so original a philosophy that it worked in certain circumstances and against certain regimes. One such authority was the British in India, a Government and a civilisation that believed in the rule of law, respected the judiciary and had a comparatively better record on human rights than other colonial power.

Had Nazi Germany been the colonial power in India, we would never have heard of Gandhi one mile into the `Dandi march'. Hypothetically speaking, what would have happened if six million Jews in Central Europe used `civil disobedience' to protest the death camps? Absolutely nothing. It was a military dictatorship. If Iraqis today used such a political philosophy to protest the occupation of their country by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld? Absolutely nothing. The truth is that for `civil disobedience' to work, you need both sides to play by the rules. The opposition you disobey has to be civilian, largely law abiding and at least partially democratic.

Too simplistic


The simplistic illustrations on Gandhi in "Lage Raho Munnabhai" are naοve to the point of idiocy. Munnabhai (Sanjay Dutt) talks about Gandhian values on his radio talk show and has callers asking him for advice. One person complains about a paan-chewing neighbour who keeps spitting outside his front door. Munnabhai suggests that the caller clean the stains with a cloth and a bucket of water until the "spitter" is shamed into stopping his distasteful behaviour. This is nonsense and all urban Indians know it. It never works and no Indian is shamed thus. At best he is amused. The only known method in the general category of `civil disobedience' to stop SMGs (Spit master generals) is to place idols or photographs of Gods and Goddesses on their chosen corner. Then there is a dramatic improvement.

M.K. Gandhi struggled for decades to get Indians to improve their spitting and toilet habits. He cleaned public toilets himself, one to prove that it was not a job reserved for "untouchables", but also because he was obsessed, as are most "foreign returned" Indians, by sanitation. If he could come back to life, as he does in "Lage Raho Munnabhai", he would probably confess that in the area of toilet habit improvement he was a complete failure. Nobody, apart from his disciples, ever listened to him.

Another caller to Munnabhai's talk show is an elderly gentleman who says that he cannot get his pension without bribing the officer on duty. Munnabhai asks him to shame the official by offering him everything he has, including his spectacles, clothes, shoes — until he is down to his underwear. In the movie, when the elderly gentleman does this, everyone laughs at the officer until, in exasperation and shame, he hands the man his pension. A reality check will tell us that if the pensioner really did this, it would be the old man who would be laughed out of the pension office and described as a senile old fool or a lunatic.

These are not Gandhian values by any stretch of imagination. M.K. Gandhi was a lawyer who believed in the rule of law, provided the law was just and administered by an independent judiciary in a free India. If he came to life today, as he does in the film, he would approve of a strict enforcement of the law, including the arrest and detention of corrupt officials.

Undeserving legitimacy

True, "Lage Raho Munnabhai" is Hindi film fantasy; an amusing one at that, and any serious analysis of the film gives it a legitimacy it doesn't really deserve. But in the context of the enormous commercial success of the film and, more importantly, the general media approval of such a film disseminating "Gandhian values" to a "lost" generation without a sense of history, one must protest.

First of all, information about the history of the Independence movement and about what M.K. Gandhi stood for is pretty well disseminated in our education system. Secondly, we do not have a "lost" generation without a sense of history. In fact it is the older generation, the generation of the makers of such films, who have deliberately dumbed down and simplified "Gandhian values" for purpose of an "original" screenplay sequel to the formula of Munnabhai, Circuit, Short Circuit and assorted law breakers.

The kids themselves, the "lost generation", are smart enough to come to the movie for a good time and not for "Gandhian values". In fact they laugh at the characters in "Lage Raho Munnabhai" precisely because they know nothing about Gandhi. It is like the Hollywood film, "Dumb and Dumber" (1994). One "dumbo" is just more unbelievably stupid than the other one. Yes, that makes for a great comedy.

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