Thursday, March 25, 2010

Arshad Warsi Week: Munnabhai MBBS

In the wake of
3 Idiots, it's easy to forget how groundbreaking Munnabhai MBBS was back when it released in 2003. Not only did it give us director Rajkumar Hirani, whose organic style of filmmaking tolled the final death knells of the flashy, upwardly mobile, Karan Johar 1990s but it also relaunched the film careers of both Sanjay Dutt and Arshad Warsi. Sanjay Dutt, the angry drugged up gangster who went out in a blaze of self-loathing in Vastaav: The Rising (1999) was reborn as the lovable, honorable, childlike Munnabhai. And Arshad Warsi, the actor with talents too nuanced for mainstream success as a 1990s hero, found his comedic niche as Circuit.

While the 2006 sequel
Lage Raho Munnabhai has become an oft-rewatched favorite in Filmi Girl's Stylish Yet Humble Media Room, it has been a while since Munnabhai MBBS had made its way into my DVD player. And as I watched, I remembered why: Munnabhai MBBS is not shy about blatantly pulling on every one of your heartstrings. In a lesser film with actors I liked less, this could easily have been extremely irritating: the dying man who never learned to live; the authority figure who has forgotten about human emotions; the middle aged man with one last chance to earn the respect of his father... we're entering Hallmark Channel territory, not a place I often visit. Yet, somehow Munna's brash naivety wins me over every time.

(I won't bore everyone with the bits of
Munnabhai I would nitpick, since it's mostly the same things I don't like about 3 Idiots. And I'm sure you heard enough from me about that back in December.)

Munnabhai MBBS is a Sanjay Dutt film above all else, but since this is Arshad Warsi week, lets take a moment to celebrate his performance as Circuit!

A lot of it can be summed by watching only
Arshad through this whole video - watch how even when the focus isn't on him, he is still in character. The small glances, joyful expressions, and (especially) the part where he does The Robot (TM) after pushing the Michael Jackson impersonator off stage. His performance adds to the scene without chewing the scenery out from under Sanjay Dutt's feet.

Even in the Not-Doing-The-Robot (TM) portions of the film,
Arshad combines just enough genuine emotion (apparently my new favorite phrase this week - I do it all for you, Arshad!) into Circuit's dopey tapori personality to make him less buffoonish clown to be laughed at than a guy you want to laugh with. And that, my friends, is no easy task. Esteemed Bollywood comedian Johnny Lever is a guy you laugh at; Mehmood was a guy you laughed at - and we all love laughing at them. But the 2000s and Rajkumar Hirani's vision required something a little different and Arshad Warsi was the guy who could deliver.

Circuit and
Munna are one of Bollywood's most perfect pairs. While Munna bumbles about getting into scrapes and making grandstanding gestures, Circuit is the one who gets things done. And watching Arshad play off of Sanjay Dutt, a careful viewer gets a sense of something similar at work - would we love Munna quite as much if he was a solo hero? Maybe we would like him but Munna without Circuit is incomplete.

I base this judgement on the fact that my finger itched to push the button to fast forward through every
Gracy Singh-Sanjay Dutt scene like my life depended on it (which perhaps it did - maybe it's Filmi Girl's ghost haunting you right now... BHOOT!) but am oddly moved by the bonding moments between the two men.

Tell me that you didn't get just a little teary eyed when Circuit purchases
two tickets back to Munna's home village. And the concern that Circuit shows when he reports to his boss that some other gang is taking over their former territory is so touching! Arshad delivers the line with in way that makes you feel that not only is Circuit concerned that their real business is going unwatched, he also feels kind of left out from his boss's new life. That complex feeling of genuine love is so often missing from contemporary Bollywood films, where a six-pack and some cool Hinglish dialogues seem set to win you any of the top actresses' hearts.

(And for you #
Arshadweek Twitter fans, tell me that when he tweeted about sitting out and wishing he could see the stars, that you weren't thinking wistfully about that scene in Munnabhai MBBS where Circuit tells Munnabhai about how his mom told him that when loved ones die, they turn into stars... *tiny sob*)

So, while
Munnabhai MBBS will never be joining the films I have in frequent rotation - I'm looking at you eternal flame of joy that is Jab We Met - it is a solid film that has stood up to the test of time and remains one that I am happy to recommend to Bollywood Beginners. Because despite the sometimes confusing subtitles, it captures so much that I love about Bollywood without going off all the way down the rabbit hole into Masala Pradesh.

All together now:
"Munna Bhai-yeeeeee MBBS!"


shahs86 said...

I guess I'm in the minority here, but I much preferred Munnabhai to LRMB. Not sure quite why, but yeah...

Well, there is the Vidya Balan thing. Every since the end of Bhool Bhulaiyaa I've found it really hard to sit and watch a movie with her. So, so ugly there... UGH! (I know the script called for it, but still...)

Han said...

Munnabhai was my first Bollywood experience. I think it would have been better if I'd had someone coaching me through it or a bit more Bollywood under my belt, but I still enjoyed it immensely. We quickly started looking for more movies with Arshad. We started looking for more movies with Sanjay, but after a couple (I'm talking about you, Dus. Yikes.) we stuck to Arshad.Mmmmm.

-Hannah (Pardesi Girl 1)

Filmi Girl said...

@shahs86 You and your Vidya Balan thing!! Try watching Ishqiya and see if you can't erase it...

@Han I think Munnabhai MBBS gives a good flavor of Bollywood, so even if you don't understand everything - which I'm sure I didn't either the first time I watched - you will still enjoy yourself and want to see more. :)

(And welcome to the blog!)

Ness said...

Hahahah I just watched Munnabhai MBBS for the first time the other day (I saw Lage Raho Munnabhai first, I don't know why?) and I think my favourite part of the whole film was Arshad pushing the MJ impersonator off the stage! I laughed SO HARD at the robot dance he and Sanju-baba did!

As much as I watch the Munnabhai films as a total Sanjay Dutt fangirl, they would be nothing without Arshad. He is a genius.

Filmi Girl said...

@Ness You know I can't NOT click on that video every time I visit my own blog now... LOL!

My new favorite part is when Circuit looks over at Munna like he needs to copy his dance moves because whatever the boss does is right but we all know that Arshad could literally dance circles around Sanjay Dutt! :D

Ness said...

Heheh yeah I love the worshipful adoration that Circuit has for Munna. When I watched Sholay, I could kind of see what Abhishek's character in Dostana means about Gabbar being 'a flamer' lol (he does leer at chained up Dharmendra awfully lasciviously), but when he implies Munna and Circuit are...NO WAY! It's pure and simple man-love, and it's beautiful.

Filmi Girl said...

@Ness I totally agree - Circuit and Munna are totally NOT GAY. Some other classic buddy pairs, though... :D

Shell said...

I totally forgot I owned this movie (which I haven't seen yet). Should have watched it instead of Shortkut. I loved LRMB, specifically for Circut (and no doubt he can dance circles, squares and any other shape around Sanjay who often looks like he's barely able to remember the steps), so I'm looking forward to seeing the original. I certainly hope that the next one ends up getting made with the pair (I think I just read Sanjay has signed on?)

Filmi Girl said...

@shell Yeah, I couldn't make it through Shortkut (or Goal for that matter)... I can't wait to hear your take on Munnabhai MBBS! Send me a link to your review when you post it and I'll add it to my index. :)

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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