DEC 27, 2003 – MUNNABHAI MBBS BEGINS WITH SOME FRENZIED INTERPLAY between an assassin, a jogger and a taxi driver, which is followed by a situation involving a fake hospital, fake patients, and a fake doctor who examines the X-ray of a skull and diagnoses the condition as lymphosarcoma of the intestine. These segments are such inspired bits of insanity, such endearingly silly fun, that I found myself willing to go easy on the rest of the film if it began to lose steam. I didn’t have to – the all-out laughs subsequently get tempered with seriousness and whimsy, but things remain inspired throughout.
The unique title and the even-more-unique conceit – a middle-aged goonda, Munnabhai (Sanjay Dutt), joins medical college to become a doctor – conceal the fact that Munnabhai MBBS is just another entry in the Khoobsoorat genre. Just as Rekha swept into a stuffy, disciplined family and transformed its members into life-embracing free spirits, Munnabhai here locks horns with stuffy, disciplined doctors and transforms them into caring caregivers.
This he does through his faith in the power of a good hug – he calls it a jadoo ki jhappi – which really is simply a metaphor for connection and compassion. The real jadoo, however, is that such a potentially icky concept is carried through the film without drowning you in a vat of syrup like Patch Adams, that grossly gooey Robin Williams vehicle along similar lines.
Director Rajkumar Hirani, who co-wrote Munnabhai MBBS with producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra, packs in an amazing variety of humour. There are ha-ha funny moments, entirely indebted to Abbas Tyrewala’s tapori dialogues. (A freshly-educated Munnabhai marvels, “Insaan ki body mein 206 type ka sirf haddi hai. Todne ka time apun sochte the kya?”) There’s humour tinged with sentiment, as when Circuit (Arshad Warsi, having himself a ball as Munnabhai’s sidekick) claims that his dead mother is now a star in the night sky, but he cannot locate her because, “Mumbai mein pollution bahut hai.” There are whimsy-coated laughs from a Parsi elder with sharp carrom-board skills, and there’s humour in romantic situations too – when Munnabhai tries to communicate telepathically with his true love (Gracy Singh, a bit overdressed for a doctor but fine otherwise), his first thought is, “Mike testing.”
This abundance of mirth, obviously better seen than written about, makes it difficult to digest the occasional dips into ultra-seriousness – especially the parts with Jimmy Shergill (touchingly playing a patient with a serious condition) – but you simply move on to the next inspired moment, say, Hirani’s exuberant song picturisations that combine the real and the surreal in classic Vidhu Vinod Chopra style. Anu Malik’s boisterous score is perfectly at home in the film’s tapori setting, and the Broadway-style, hospital-set cabaret Dekh Le (magnificently voiced by Sunidhi Chauhan) is a dazzling standout.
Holding everything together are the two lead performances. Boman Irani has a high old time as the Type A Dean of the medical college, whose hilarious attempts at managing stress through laughter therapy bring to mind the manic Anupam Kher in Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahin. His on-screen nemesis, Sanjay Dutt, can do bhai characters in his sleep now, but here he’s playing the kind of goonda girls would want to take home to mother, a role requiring a charming naivete. (“Entrance exam dena zaroori hai kya,” he asks, while trying to get into college.) The actor pulls this off fabulously, and his sweet goofiness makes Munnabhai MBBS that rare feel-good comedy that actually makes you feel good.
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