Ever since the Big B’s version of Haji Maastan’s life story in Deewar, underworld dons have been popular in Bollywood. Amitabh Bachchan carried on his larger-than-life portrayals in Don and The Great Gambler till the first brush with underworld realism in the gritty Satya. This trend continued with the brooding Vaastav and more recently Company, said to be inspired by the real life and times of two warring gang lords.

Munnabhai too is the story of a bhai (don), but there ends the similarity with other Hindi film bhais. He is actually a modern-day Robin Hood, robbing the rich to serve the poor. This simple linear story is about the good-hearted goon, Munna (Sanjay Dutt), who pretends to run a charitable hospital to please his father (Sunil Dutt). When the father discovers the farce and leaves the city in disgust, Munna resolves to become a real doctor to placate him. That it has to be mostly by hook or crook, is the nub wherein lies ample scope for hilarious moments.

Right from the entry of the obviously overage Munna in a prestigious medical college—the way he manages to top the pre-medical exams, his first ragging session, the classes he attends—it is the stuff great comedies are made of. A spirited battle of wits ensues between the unfortunate dean, Dr. Asthana (Boman Irani) and Munna. Ably aided by his second-in-command, Circuit (Arshad Warsi), Munna cheerfully goes about making Asthana’s life hell.

Lifting this movie above stereotype are the situational comedy and the witty script with heart-warming little moments woven seamlessly into it.

Tongue in cheek, this film also exposes the bureaucracies in hospital procedures like filling innumerable forms even when the patient is on the death bed, the dispassionate doctors, and insensitivity towards poor folk.

Another thing that the movie successfully proves is that a good film is possible without extravagant sets, grand locales, and exorbitant costumes. The entire film moves between the hospital and Munna’s downtown colony; it never moves out of Mumbai, not even for the mandatory songs. Debutant director Rajkumar Hirani steers clear of the common pitfalls of many first-time directors—of biting off more than they can chew. Very astutely he sticks to the main plot and refuses to get sidetracked even by the romance angle.

Sunil Dutt comes out of a long hibernation and is as earthy as ever. Sanjay is absolutely endearing as the benevolent gang leader in stark contrast to his Vaastav avatar. He is ably matched by theatre and television veteran Boman Irani as the dean and a laughter club enthusiast, whose inner dilemma “to laugh or not to laugh” are as hilarious as his lapses into tapori-speak (Mumbai dialect). Gracy Singh has little to do except look pretty, which she intermittently does. Rohini Hattangadi, as always, makes even her tiny role worth watching. The wasted talent, however, is Jimmy Shergill in a minuscule role. Since the movie is the second recent father-son combo to hit the jackpot after Hrithik-Rakesh-starrer Koi Mil Gaya, it just might make this a winning trend.

Alwar-based writer Madhumita Gupta’s articles have appeared in Femina and Hindustan Times.

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