Munnabhai shows Gandhigiri would work in today’s turbulent times
My understanding of Gandhi while growing up was purely based on what I read in our history books in school. In fact, my knowledge of Gandhi was very limited till I watched (Richard) Attenborough’s Gandhi, a film that completely blew my mind.
I was studying at the Pune film institute then and soon after started reading up about him. I read several books on him but the finest account that left a deep impression on me was Louis Fischer’s biography of him. It defined my views on the man. Gandhi was quite in fashion in those days. Whenever there was a discussion, people would end up blaming Gandhi for India’s Partition and I would find myself debating the point. It went on for a while and that made me want to read more and more about him. I believed that he was an unusual but a great man who handled things differently. Who would have thought that he could achieve what he did in a non-violent way?
I have never consciously incorporated Gandhian philosophy in my films. Our writing comes from our memories. We dig into our lives, our experiences of whatever we have seen, read or heard and the idea of Gandhi might have crept into my film making subconsciously.
I had written a script about an 8-year-old boy who gets influenced by Gandhi before I co-wrote Lage Raho Munnabhai, but that script didn’t go anywhere. Then I just happened to think of what if a violent gangster were to meet a non-violent man. It just opened up opportunities for a lot of fun and to tell the modern world that his ways are relevant even today. That’s why we made Gandhi speak to Munna in the kind of language that Munna would speak.
When you’re making a film you do it with a certain conviction but you’re never certain of what the end result will be. What was extremely important while we were writing this was we would have to show by example that Gandhi’s ways could work in our times. That’s why there are scenes like a man spitting and the owner of the house wiping the spit and smiling at him instead of yelling. The idea was to shame the person with goodness, something that Gandhiji believed in — instead of fighting, winning people over with kindness. There was also so much more that Gandhi stands for but we didn’t want to make it extensive in a way that might make the film boring or preachy. So we decided to zero in on two things — truth and non-violence — so all of Munnabhai’s quirks were about his courage to be truthful and nonviolent.
The concept of Gandhigiri came from basic emotions like goodness and compassion and to be like him would require tremendous discipline. Just because I’ve read Gandhi does not mean I will behave like him or people should be forcefed his philosophies. I don’t think there should be a compulsion for anyone to take up a cause. What matters is when people get influenced and feel in a certain way to follow his values and principles.
I remember the time when people were giving out flowers to each other over fights and Pune’s traffic cops sent flowers to bikers who broke signals. People whose green card applications had reportedly been held up by the US immigration flooded their headquarters with flowers.
Shantanu Moitra, who scored the music for the film, did something crazy. He was working on the background music for the film’s trial scene. On the same evening when heading home, he broke a red signal. He was so influenced by the film that he stopped his car and went hunting for a cop to pay the fine.
There’s a lovely quote by Gandhi that I recently used, ‘Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony’, which is so true. If you put up a front that you don’t feel inside, it will bite you. People sometimes ask me how certain things like terrorism cannot be countered with goodness but then Gandhi’s values are also based on reason, humanity, goodness. They are more relevant today given the kind of stress we live with. Today the chances of getting into everyday conflict are far more enhanced; be it road rage or social media, people get angry very easily. But if someone were to deal with that with some amount of humanity and choose to not fight over it, it would make a difference.
Gandhi’s ways were unusual and will continue to work forever. You must have faith and not be cynical.
(As told to Mohua Das)
A scene from Lage Raho Munnabhai, in which Gandhi spoke a language the don and the audience could understand