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A collaboration over too much coffee.
coffee and pen

02 September, 2006

Munnabhai MBBS (MMBBS) and Rang de Basanti (RDB) – Flawed Beyond Recompense

Both are, in a manner of speaking, super-duper hits. Both are targeted at the Indian youth and makes pretenses to be different cinema. Both have captured the imagination of the Indian youth who swear by the originality of both movies, not realizing that both movies are flawed beyond recompense, at least, to me, a minority of one.

RDB was shown on Independence Day, probably to incite patriotic feeling in citizens. Patriotism? Is killing your own father – as one of the protagonists does, although, the subject is a corrupt politician – patriotism? The message here is that murder is good and that would include parricide. Are we back in the dark ages? Amir Khan in a scene from the film is clearly shown giving money to a policeman to stay off a fight that his friends had started. The message here is that bribery is also very good and worth emulating.

In another scene which I found very objectionable, the character played by Amir Khan is shown standing on a high wall bending backwards and drinking beer, a hit song sequence, I guess. Drinking while bending backwards down into a precipitous pond is a juvenile and dangerous exercise for a youth, of that everyone is aware. But the movie is absolutely insouciant about the wrong images it is sending to the youth. Firstly, the impression created is that drinking is good, and drinking and doing risky things are even better.

What sort of message does this convey to the youth? I will summarize: Parricide is good, bribery is good, drinking and doing foolish stunts is good. How can such a movie not even be panned by critics who rave about its great qualities and even confer awards on it? How can a censor board – which has been constituted for this purpose – not object, at least, where the politician is shown as being bad and killed by his own son?

There are many more flaws in this supposedly youth cult film which I am not mentioning here. One of them is lewd remarks made to a white girl which she cannot understand. It is clear that there is sexual harassment involved. The movie left a bad taste in my mouth. Are our youth so cynical as to applaud all these bad qualities in themselves? The stereotype here is youth of the north somewhere around the Punjab. Do they behave so grossly, if so, what can the nation expect from these citizens? Peace or violence?

This is over the top, way too exaggerated, and made with a view to appeal to the baser instincts of viewers. Is it an ironic reflection of the state we are in that this movie is a huge hit?

Here's another flawed film that is a super box-office hit. Here the protagonists are Central Indians, most notably Bambaiya, and talk the language of the Bombay hoodlums. The character played by Sanjay Dutt is admitted to a medical degree college to train as a doctor. There is a shortage of bodies to be dissected and the hoodlum phones his sidekick to bring him a body from somewhere. The sidekick played by Harshad Warsi clobbers and kidnaps an oriental-looking man and brings him to the dissecting table.

Okay, okay, what went wrong here? Raju Hirani, in an interview said the film portrays some of the problems that MBBS students face during their training. Yes, there is a shortage of bodies in medical colleges, but, can it be solved by clobbering a foreign-looking oriental and bringing him to the laboratory in a sack? Again, what message are you sending across Raju Hirani?

Munnabhai doesn't know a single letter in the proverbial three "r's", even to spell or sign his own name and forces a doctor to impersonate him in the medical college entrance examination. And, surprise, surprise, he is admitted. He is doing all this to take revenge for some slight against his family's honor. Message: cheating in exams is good for your family honor.

The irony doesn't end there. Munnabhai becomes a doctor in the end. That means cheating, lying, impersonating, threatening teachers; all are accepted behavior in Indian medical colleges. Believe me when I say freaky messages are being conveyed here, messages full of bitterness, insubordination, deprivation, and the use of violence.

Would the people of India trust the medical fraternity after seeing such gross exaggerations of their profession? Why didn't they speak out? Is that again an indication of some malaise at the root of the medical system that extracts millions of rupees from students seeking admission into medical colleges?

And this film too is a box office hit. It raked in enough cash to encourage the director to make a sequel with the same theme. The sequel goes a bit further and hints that hoodlums should be treated on the level of national figures – with pictures of them printed on currency notes. What an insult to the nation's leadership! I can only say, what guts and gumption these directors exhibit to the public, and that when it comes to exaggerations Indian films recognize no boundaries.

As they say, "Whither, Indian Cinema?"
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sorry to tell this but whoever wrote this piece of crap is a complete IDIOT.

03 September, 2006 00:50  
Anonymous Anil said...

I don't know about Munnabhai but I completely disagree with your take on RDB John. If you look at the film more closely esp towards the end when one of the protagonists answers questions on the radio they never ask anyone to follow their example. They never spread the message that you have to kill to achieve something. Yes, they did murder people. But they never ask others to follow their bloody example. They pay the price for what they did in the end.

But one has to understand the cynicism of today's youth as well. How do you root out corruption when it has seeped into every corner of soceity? So much so that you are considered bad if you 'do not' take a bribe! How do you change such a system when the watchdogs themselves are corrupt? Will ahimsa and non-violence work in changing the majority of society or will such people only pay attention to violence and death? If you ask these questions perhaps you will then understand the actions of the characters in RDB and why it has resonated with today's youth so much. And you are also wrong to say that it sends out a flawed message. How many corrupt people have been killed bcos of the film by disillusioned youth? On the contrary, as far as I know, youth influenced by the film only have resorted to peaceful means to fight against the system (the reservation issue) even though the film also shows that a peaceful fight is brutally suppressed in today's India.

But I think you overlooked one important criticism of the film which perhaps no one has pointed out. That we need someone from outside, a foreigner, an English one at that to awaken our youth and make them see the insular lives they are leading. Have we become so used and blind to the wrongs around us that we need some foreigner to drop the veil from our eyes? Are we still suffering from a colonial hangover, waiting for the white man to change us?

(Also, why is drinking bad John? As long as one does it moderation why should drinking be bad? Alcohol has existed as long as civilization has existed and perhaps it will exist as long as mankind exists.)

03 September, 2006 13:46  
Blogger John said...

Hi Anil,

It is the question of whether the end justifies the means. If the end (drawing attention to MIG planes crashing, etc) was the aim, the youth have adopted a flawed means to highlight it (taking over the radio station, killing etc.). The means the youth adopt cannot justify the end. If there is corruption it has to be fought at the grassroot level. Have you heard of the "Chief Vigilance Commission"? Or, CVC as it is called? Anyone can lodge a complaint against a public servant on this website and have the public servant investigated. And the Right to Information Act gives us the right to demand information from the government. Why didn't the youth resort to these means (though painfully slow) rather than killing and taking over a government establishment.

As for drinking being shown in the movie, my grouse is with the way it was shown, ie, a risky way.

What I am asking is couldn't the director have toned down the film to an understated political sttatement as in other political movies I have seen. These films are so gross they subvert the very message they intend to convey by their over-statement. That the youth has been incited is because of this grossness, which isn't a good example for a film to set, as there could be imitations of the genre and more gore and more grossness.

As you rightly point out the only voice of reason in the whole film is of the gora girl. In that case teh film is a sad commentary on the morale of the country's youth.

:) Thanks for your feedback. I appreciate.


04 September, 2006 12:32  
Anonymous Deep said...


I agree that the first half hour of RDB is a little unbearable (in regards to the college drinking, crazy driving, etc.) but it was necessary. The whole movie is about going for rebellious, pessimistic, irresponsible youth to people who actually "care" and take action.

So I would have to disagree with your take on RDB. I think everything that you mentioned is a turn-off for some people but resembles real life for a lot of folks.

05 September, 2006 10:11  
Anonymous Vandana said...

First of all, I did like is a little extreme towards the end (that's unlike any Hindi film) and sometimes you have to go on a ledge to prove a point.

Secondly, Munna bhai...gimme a's a COMEDY for God's sake! And you can count that no Med. Student applying for Med. school is taking notes while watching this film (they'd have to be pretty stupid to take it which case they won't get in anyways).

05 September, 2006 10:20  
Anonymous Vandana said... the first line I meant, "that's NOT unlike any other Hindi film"

05 September, 2006 10:22  
Blogger John said...

Deep, Vandana,

First of all to say "what else do you expect from Hindi movies" shows a cynicism. It's saying that nothing can be done, at all. It's like giving a slap on the face and saying it was nothing but a caress.

At the cost of being labeled an "idiot" I would say I have ruffled some sensitive feathers (see the first comment on this thread). For me an "idiot" is one who can't write a few words of comment on a blog and calls those who do, "idiot."


Since this is a writer's forum and the issue is whether I put my point across, in a proper way, logically at that, I would like your feedback on whether the article is coherently argued, or, if it needs re-working. Your comment should not be on what I wrote but rather on how I wrote it.


06 September, 2006 14:22  
Blogger Balaji said...

It is a movie mate...relax...the youth of today really does know what is good and what is bad. They do bad things knowing that it is bad and follow good things knowing that it is good. No movie is going to change that....

The movie is seen for 3 hours, songs sung and forgotten. that is about it.

06 September, 2006 19:58  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi John,

I think certain things were not understood as I had meant them. Let me try to explain. I definitely didn't mean any harm.

You said:

> First of all to say "what else do you expect from Hindi movies" shows a cynicism. It's saying that nothing can be done, at all. It's like giving a slap on the face and saying it was nothing but a caress.

You've mis-quoted me here. I did not say that. What I said was, "towards the end (that's not unlike any other Hindi film)..." I'm not at all saying that we shouldn't expect better from Hindi films or that there aren't some rare good ones. However, I think most people would agree that "most" are known for dance sequences, fighting, and melodrama...aka "masala movies."

You said:
>Your comment should not be on what I wrote but rather on how I wrote it.

As a writer I would have to say that it's generally both. The readers on this blog should not be expected to ignore the substance. That's generally what keeps the reader reading.

However, I disagree with the first (anonymous) commentor. That kind of rude criticism/bashing is uncalled for. Come on, calling someone an idiot because you don't agree with their point of view. Are we in high school again?

Lastly, in this case my constructive criticism would be that while reading I felt that the review was biased and based on a few (what I thought) were small parts of the movie. If you had presented any of the good aspects of the movie that could be appealing to others, it would be a more balanced peace of review/writing.

I don't expect you or anyone else to agree with this. But that's the beauty of writing, we all get to express different viewpoints and none has to be the absolute right or wrong. None ever is.

Lastly, I would encourage you to keep writing because you feel "passionately" about things. And it's always nice to read something that is written from the heart. (And don't take any of the critics, including myself too seriously). We're just putting out what we's upto you to take the advice or not. :-)


14 September, 2006 05:58  
Blogger John said...

Thanks Vandana,

That was a very constructive summing up. I thought I was being an idiot by being "passionate" about what I felt about.

Balaji, frankly, I find the argument "It is a movie mate...relax..." hard to take. We say that too often, and then decry the fact that moral values are falling across the country, across the social, governmental and cultural spectrum.

If any protest is to be made it should be about the shoddy way in which the youth of today is portrayed in RDB - as a bunch of good for nothings who besides being morally corrupt (Amir Khan's character bribes a policeman), also are potential terrorists (taking over of the radio station), and also have scant respect for women (teasing of the white woman).

As for Munnabhai (the first movie not the sequel), the film wouldn't have been half as objectionable to me if Munnabhai is shown to have reformed. But, no, nowhere is he shown as having reformed. He is still a goon and has not given up his ways.

Don't you find it a trifle disturbing that a criminal is shown in a movie as having the guts to become a doctor (while the guardians of law and propriety were caught in a mighty nap), and is not even discovered until he voluntarily gives up being a doctor? (Shades of the Telgi scam here. Telgi printed and circulated stamp papers around the country and everyone, including grateful politicians and law keepers said "chalta hai" and assumed there was nothing wrong. Imagine. And he was only caught because he spent recklessly.)

A reality check, I think that is what is needed here. How could we descend to such depths as to love and shower awards on a cinematic Munnabhai who might have murdered and maimed on his way to being a leader of the underworld?

May be I need that reality check myself! hehe


17 September, 2006 00:05  
Blogger abhigyan said...

dear john,(and the other respondents)
i have watched this discussion for a while and finally i cannot resist a few words.( and i am in Goa so the incentive had to be huge)

first of all the IDIOT who wrote the first comment about John is the real Mccoy. people who cannot stomach discussions on serious matters have no buiness being on a writers' board much less calling themselves writers.

john, i find you raising valid points but why do you sound so self-righteous? it is the self righteousness of people like us that make the amoral degenerates of this era so 'cool'. so please don't be self-righteous. there is no higher moral ground to be assumed by anyone but everyone must have their own moral ground before they enter a discussion.what is not acceptable is to say i don't belive in morality. so then don't enter a discussion on good/better/wrorse - for that is the domain of morality to discover the worth of things humane.

i agree with John on two counts, RDB and Munnabhai both are films that make me cringe as an Indian film-maker. between the two, RDB is a far superior film but if RDB is the best we have to offer then our films are treading 20000 leagues under the stuff Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee made. Forget International standars we seem to be unabletomatch our own standards set in the 60s. it is like running 100 meters in 12 seconds! and calling it fast. that stopped being the benchmark 40 years ago.

the less said about munnabhai the better. educated, intellectual types have gone to town giving this utterly mediocore film 4stars when it is even worse than its predecessor! i can understand not wanting to offend Gandhiji but come on if Gandhi needs Munna's endorsement, then may be it is time the Grate man has really lost his relevance. this film has bad music, corny dialogue, and really crappy screenplay. if we fail to see that then we are all intellectually challeneged beyond repair.

about RDB's end. the end is wrong for the film. it is an end where the director's amaorality and lack of definitive stand comes through clearly. he was too timid to have them resort to violence so he had them shoot a couple of people but they stopped short of bloody revolution. they die without fighting though they are armed! completely moronic.
he was extremely unimaginative with the other option 'non-violent struggle' and didn't know how to take it further after a candle march. to reinvent protest was the ideal of RDB but it lost nerve after the candle march.

but RDB's spirit was right. RDB's youth sadly is the youth of today. and our fathers deserve thisyouth for they took it easy and decided to settle down in the 70's instead of carrying the torch of ideals into the 80s. we too will deserve this youth if we don't always take the stands we believe in and stop being intellectual cowards in the face of mounting neo-liberal, amoral politically correct viewpoints.

that is the real issue. stop writing stuff you haven't thought carefully about. stop considering linelengths and crossed metaphors and start thinking about the important things. take a little time. and you will hear the themes calling out to you. stop putting pen to paper for dumb exercises. if you want your pen to be mightier than the sword, then raise it only when you have something worthwhile to say.

that is why MUnna1/2 or RDB don't even come close. the people who made it have just made cool films for their audiences. 10 years and they will make no sense.

they are junk! like most art these days.

18 September, 2006 23:23  
Blogger zigzackly said...


Don't want to get into this debate. But I must react to this:
Since this is a writer's forum and the issue is whether I put my point across, in a proper way, logically at that, I would like your feedback on whether the article is coherently argued, or, if it needs re-working. Your comment should not be on what I wrote but rather on how I wrote it.

Two points.

1. This is not a writers' forum. It's a blog run by a writers' forum. It's out here in the wild, and open to anyone to comment.

2. You say that you want comment only on your writing style, "on whether the article is coherently argued, or, if it needs re-working." But then why are you defending your point of view? That only prolongs the argument.

Well, a third point. Or let's call it "2.b."
For that kind of critique, the only place you can insist on it is on the message board. Not here.

21 September, 2006 12:59  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are sounding like a old gen daddy who is unable to understand what is wrong with the current generation. The point is, what makes u think that the current generation doesn't have a mind of its own to understand which parts of the movie are for fun sake and which are to be taken seriously?
And Munnabhai doesn't become a doctor in the end.
Btw, I also wrote my analysis on RDB here

02 December, 2006 00:54  

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