Munnab­hai shows Gand­hi­giri would work in to­day’s tur­bu­lent times

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Times Special | [email protected] 150 - Ra­jku­mar Hi­rani

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

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