Vincent M. Hills is a senior at the University of Alabama majoring in History and minoring in Religious Studies. This post was originally written for Dr. Rollens’ course, REL 360: Popular Culture/Public Humanities.
Lage Raho Munnabhai is a prime example of the statement that “appearances can be deceiving.” What at first glance looks like a mediocre comedy ends in a film that not only provokes laughter, but also serious thought. The movie attempts to show that people, regardless of their social status or religious affiliation, can learn valuable lessons from Mahatma Gandhi. The film’s protagonist Murli is in love with a radio DJ whom he has never actually seen. As he makes his first appearance, it is obvious he is supposed to be some type of “thug”. Murli wins a contest and is eventually interviewed by Janhavi, the radio DJ. He tells her a series of lies that make her fall for him, and the movie is about him trying to further his relationship with her using Gandhi as his “Jiminy Cricket,” his invisible companion who supplies him with all the information he needs to be an expert on Gandhi’s life. From this point on, the purpose of the movie—to demonstrate the relevance of Gandhi to a variety of people—becomes clear.
For example, there is scene where a man calls in to Murli asking for advice after he had lost his father’s savings in the stock market, and it is evident that the man’s father is supposed to be a Christian. The father’s office is decorated with crosses (to let the viewer know he’s a Christian), and Gandhi’s advice to the men (through Murli) shows that even Christians can learn something from Gandhi. Another example comes with the film’s antagonist, who is a Sikh and is basically a profiteer. Towards the end of the film, his daughter is supposed to marry a particular man, but the man’s family astrologer pronounces that the bride to-be was born at an unlucky time of day. This is seen as an indicator of how ill-fated the marriage will be in the future. By the end of the film, we learn that both the astrologist and the groom’s father both have gotten rid of their beliefs about astrology. The film’s antagonist has a vision of Gandhi in the same circumstances as Murli did, which shows that although he was a Sikh, he, too, could listen to Gandhi’s advice.
Overall, this film does an excellent job of depicting the way Gandhi influenced India’s culture, and the fact that Indian society as a whole would be under better circumstances if they remembered the teachings of Gandhi. However, it is important to remember that this image of Gandhi and his teachings was created in a specific way by the film’s director. Whether Gandhi’s vision would actually help in today’s world is ultimately up to the audience to decide. And although the story is a heartwarming romantic comedy, it still presents India and Indians through stereotypes instead of presenting factual events. These exaggerated characters ultimately make the movie entertaining though; the next time I need to pick a movie to watch, I will definitely consider a Bollywood.