When Munna Bhai enters the frame in his signature style, offering a ‘Jaadu Ki Jhappi’, all hearts melt. Despite being a ‘bhai’, he is lovable. Despite extortion calls, he is the go-to person for everyone. Despite threats of kidnapping, he is scared of his parents.
Sanjay Dutt calls Murli Prasad Sharma aka Munna Bhai a career-defining role. The actor got a new lease of life in Bollywood with Munna Bhai MBBS (2003), which was ace filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani’s directorial debut.
So what was it about Munna Bhai that made him unique?.
Munna Bhai came at a time when Bollywood’s definition of a don or gangster was a man with an appetite for bloodlust. Of course Munna, in his own mind, was on similar lines, just that his ways were tad different. One can recall how the opening kidnapping scene ends up with him punishing the other party when he discovers that he has been double-crossed by the instigator himself into false money laundering. Munna’s justice is just!
Despite being the tapori thug who rules the washerman’s neighbourhood, he is affable. He is also scared of his parents. So whenever his parents visit him in Mumbai, Munna and his gang of minions turn their den upside down into “Shri Hari Prasad Sharma Charitable Hospital”, putting up an exaggerated act of running a charity clinic. Munna was indeed a baddie with a good heart.
Seeking redemption after hurting his parents, he cheats his way through a medical institute. He fails to perform a post-mortem on a dead body despite killing several people outside the hospital. He challenges its dean Dr Asthana at every step to throw him out. Why? Because Munnai Bhai realises he isn’t there for a degree (he’ll anyway get that through his own ways). His motive is to spread love, heal hearts and win over Dr Suman (Gracy Singh). His tactics are sweet. From giving love lessons to a teenager who thinks suicide is the only remedy post a heartbreak, ensuring a cancer patient enjoys all the worldly happiness in the little time he has at his disposal to even infusing life again into an old man on his death bed, Munna’s medicine was one of a kind. His “Jaadu Ki Jhappi” not only made his friends in the hospital smile, but even brought back a brain-dead patient. In short, Munna needed no MBBS to heal the world.
Rajkumar Hirani relied more on the goodness of the character. In the guise of a comedy, this film was a walking and talking book on how to live life. Munna’s walk, lexicon and ideologies too found many takers.
One of the most striking scenes of the film is when Munna Bhai confides in his father in the climax. Munna’s goodness gets the better off him here as he isn’t able to hold his tears and melts in the arms of Hari Prasad Sharma, played by Sanjay Dutt’s real-life father Sunil Dutt. This film was the first time the two actors were performing together. A lot was going on in Dutt’s personal life too and this moment became magical onscreen because probably the two Dutts weren’t acting here, rather being their real selves.
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For Dutt, to play Munna Bhai meant breaking his own mould of a macho man. While Bollywood was still tagging him as the “Khalnayak”, his Munna Bhai showed the soft side of not only this actor, but also a typical Bollywood gangster.
We weren’t surprised when Munna Bhai returned with Lage Raho Munna Bhai in 2006. And then, there’s a third film in the pipeline too.