Ankle Deep in Bollywood

Wading a step farther into the waters of Bollywood, I recently saw the 2003 comedy, Munna Bhai, which I heard about in Bombay.* I liked it very much, although to be honest, I am still getting used to such old-fashioned, industrial-strength entertainment!

Sanjay Dutt, a sandy-haired rogue in his 40s with bedroom eyes and a huge following, stars as Munnabhai, a loan shark with a heart of gold, shaking people down in one of the nicer Bombay slums. (Some scenes are shot in a semblance of that city's laundry district, where thousands of washermen and women ply their trade in stone tubs passed down through the generations.)

Munnabhai, it turns out, comes from a well-to-do background outside the city, and his refined parents don't know he's a crook. They think he's a medical doctor, and when they come to Bombay for their annual visit, he and his mates transform his gangster digs into a hospital.

Naturally, this scheme goes awry, and to the mortification of his parents, Munnabhai is exposed. Heartsick, he vows to cheat, charm, and strong-arm his way to a medical degree (anything but study, naturally). This, too, is a disaster, albeit the kind that occurs in Hindi films: lots of singing, dancing, and larking about included. In the end, Munnabhai's genuine goodness has become evident to all, including his worst enemies, the woman he loves, and -- at long last -- mother and dad.

Sounds corny, I know. But along the way, the film makes relentless fun of the medical profession, self-important people, and high-caste Indians who treat lower-caste people as faceless underlings. This is the kind of thing old-fashioned Hollywood films used to do, and it is fascinating to see it done in a whole different cinematic language.

NB: I thought "Mumbai" was politically correct until I went there and learned that everyone who grew up in the city calls it Bombay. So now I call it "Bombay" in order to be PC in some things, at least. I can understand their resistance, actually. What if someone came along and renamed Boston "Mustain"?

November 17, 2007 4:32 PM |



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This page contains a single entry by Martha Bayles published on November 17, 2007 4:32 PM.

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