Comedy is not a genre one would associate with Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Over the past decade, his forte has been in hard-hitting and stark dramas. "Kareeb" is the only truly light-hearted film that he has directed yet that film was something of a failure in terms of screenplay and execution. It might actually be irrelevant to mention this man´s name but it is worth noticing that for "Munnabhai M.B.B.S.", Chopra took the producing route and the directing chair was given to Rajkumar Hirani. It may have been a wise decision as this film succeeds very well as a light-hearted entertainer.
"Munnabhai M.B.B.S." is not just a comedy but also belongs to the gangster genre. As a bhai, Munna (Sanjay Dutt) and his gang go around solving monetary situations and disputes using threats and underhanded tactics. When he is just going about on his normal business one day, news reaches him that his strict father, Hari Prasad Sharma (Sunil Dutt) is making a visit to see him. All alert as the entire gang collaborates in converting Munnabhai´s den into a fake hospital. Scared to tell the truth that he is a goonda, Munnabhai instead told his parents that he was a doctor. And every year when they visit him in Mumbai, Munna and his friends undergo a charade of doctors and nurses (oops, no nurses actually).
The charade does not last long as Hari Prasad Sharma meets an old friend, Dr. Asthana. Dr. Asthana has a daughter, Suman (Gracy Singh) who during childhood, used to play games with Munna. The parents decide that it might be a good idea to arrange marriage between the two. But news reaches Dr. Asthana that Munna is an impostor and is actually a bhai. Munna is forced to confess to his tearful parents in front of Asthana. Bitter and heartbroken, Munna tells his close friend, Circuit (Arshad Warsi), that he is determined to make his maa baap proud of him and prove Asthana wrong. On top of that, he will try and win Chinky´s hand in marriage (Chinky being Suman´s nickname from her bachpan). He enrolls in a medical college, which also just happens to have Asthana as the dean and Suman as a medical assistant. From then on, it is classic ´fish-out-of-water´ comedy as a gangster tries to settle into the student life.
It must be acknowledged that there is a noticeable change in the way that modern Hindi films are beginning to approach comedy. Recent Bollywood films are attempting more and more to genuinely integrate the humour into the story and have it enacted by real characters. The old-fashioned style of having a separate comedy track with the likes of Johny Lever and Shakti Kapoor uttering nonsense babble is, it seems, on its way out (unless David Dhawan´s films come back into fashion that is). The humour in Priyadarshan´s "Hungama" and "Hera Pheri" are different too but they are of a nostalgic brand, they hark back to the times when Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee made films in similar vein. No, the humour in films like "Kal Ho Naa Ho" and "Munnabhai M.B.B.S." is heavily assisted by the use of snazzy camerawork, sharp editing and visual gags. It is a welcome trend I must add.
This film is very funny and that is due to spot on comic timing by Sanjay Dutt, Arshad Warsi and Boman Irani. The humour is mostly derived from the way that Munna winds up the other characters with his no-nonsense and straightforward but cocky attitude. The camaraderie between Sanjay and Arshad is endearing and that is vital to convince us that these two characters are close friends. The title role was originally offered to Shah Rukh Khan but Sanjay Dutt was born for this role. He is brilliant and so natural as Munnabhai. I liked his emoting in the scene where he reveals all to his father and in his drunken scene with Arshad where he declares he will become a doctor. It is nice to see Arshad´s comic potential being utilised properly and he shines as the sincere but slightly loopy Circuit. Boman Irani, too, is hilarious as the aggravated man who laughs exaggeratedly just to ease his own boiling tension inside. It is great to see Sunil Dutt back on the screen again after a long time. Gracy Singh has even less to do as the heroine here than in "Armaan" but she offers a cute and bubbly performance. Jimmy Shergill does not make his appearance until the second half and his performance is solid. He plays a hospital patient.
The songs are nicely picturised but they seem to lack a real tune. A nice melody wouldn´t have gone amiss. The producers have attempted to make the music and lyrics appropriate to the story but if the songs are not really anything memorable, then what is the point of having them? Rajkumar Hirani controls the goings-on in the story very well and extracts assured performances from all of his actors. This is a very promising debut. If the shadow of Vidhu Vinod Chopra looms somewhere then it looms in the look of the film. VVC regular, Binod Pradhan´s photography gives a heartwarming feel to the movie and it has the Vidhu Vinod Chopra stamp on it. The story is quite tricky. A tough gangster develops a strong conscience and cares about every dying person in the hospital. That would have been rather difficult to believe but the director (who wrote part of the screenplay and script) narrowly avoids it by refusing to show Munnabhai actually kill someone and developing the character as a modern day Robin Hood who only hassles rich and corrupt businessmen.
A warm and charming film, "Munnabhai M.B.B.S." is one of the best comedies of the year.