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A runaway success

The box-office triumph of "Munnabhai MBBS" seems to have turned it into a cult classic. Even the British Medical Journal reviewed it, shocking purists. In a bid to emulate its success, the film is being remade in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, sa ys SREEDHAR PILLAI.

Sanjay Dutt (second from right) plays the `tapori' to perfection along with his Man Friday, `Circuit' (Arshad Warsi, extreme right) in "Munnabhai MBBS."

IS "MUNNABHAI MBBS" a Bollywood cult classic? Yes seems to be the answer, as it has not only broken all formulaic conventions associated with Bollywood films but has also become a trendsetter. Nearly eight months after its release (December 19, 2003), people are still in awe of the film.

Made on a budget of Rs 10 crores, it is a hit worldwide and has taken a distributors share of Rs 25 crores from the Indian market! In Mumbai circuit alone, it has collected a share of Rs 10 crores upwards.

In Pakistan, students of a Lahore college declared it as the most popular Indian comedy ever made. During the recent India-Pakistan tour, the cricket-crazy crowds in Karachi displayed their affection for `Munnabhai' with Urdu posters, `Vaat Lag Gayi Hai' scrawled on them each time Virendra Sehwag deflected the ball to the boundary line. Whenever Inzamam Ul Haq, the beefy Pakistani skipper, lazily walked in to bat, there were loud shouts of ``Mamu,'' the college dean in "Munnabhai ... " essayed by Bomman Irani.

Now an unauthorised remake of "Munnabhai MBBS" featuring Shaan, the Pakistan star is in the pipeline.

More than its box-office performance, what has caught the imagination of the audience is the `Tapori' (Mumbai slang used by mainly underworld characters) language used in the film.

According to Abbas Tyrewala, who wrote the script, ``The quintessential Mumbai `tapori' or street slang used in the film has become a sort of style statement. It is amazing that the word `mamu' which is a typical Mumbai slang has become popular with even the NRIs in London!'' Now every other Bollywood film is trying to inject Mumbai slang to pep up the script.

Feather in the cap

The British Medical Journal carried a review of "Munnabhai ... ," which shocked the purists. The journal occasionally carries film reviews, and that too only of Hollywood, if the subjects have had anything to do with the medical profession. The review calls the film ``a riot'' and notes that Sanjay Dutt won a Filmfare award, the Indian equivalent of the Oscars, for his performance! It was peer recognition as it was, for the first time a Hindi film was reviewed by the British Medical Journal'

Another feather in `Munnabhai's' cap was when Gemini Film circuit purchased the remake rights for all the four South Indian languages. In Tamil, Kamal Hassan plays "Vasool Raja MBBS," in Telugu Chiranjeevi is "Shankardada MBBS" and in Kannada Upendra is "Uppidada MBBS."

Remember that the Hindi version had done extraordinary business all over South even in Chennai where only a Shah Rukh Khan film runs. Said Sundaresan Kumar of Mumbai-based Shringar Films, who had distributed "Munnabhai ... " in Tamil Nadu: ``There were no buyers for a Sanjay Dutt film, as he has no market in Chennai but the film, based only on word-of-mouth, did a whopping Rs. 45 lakh business in Chennai city and its suburbs and it was mostly Tamils who saw the film.'' The reason, according to Kumar, is that it was a clean comedy with the right emotional mix. Later, after producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra sold the remake right for South, the film was withdrawn from the Tamil Nadu theatres.

So what is it about "Munnabhai MBBS" that made an entire nation go crazy? The answer is clearly Sanjay Dutt, who was not the first choice as Munnabhai but was a compromise candidate of the producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra and director Raj Kumar Hirani. They were sceptical about Dutt playing the bhai's role as he has done it previously in quite a few films like "Naam," "Vaastav" and "Hum Kissise Kum Nahin." And in real life too the actor was accused of having underworld connections, the Mumbai 1993 bomb blast and his long conversation with Chotta Shakeel from a Nasik Hotel which was later taped by police.

Casting coup

Now that the film is a big hit and has its own cult following, people are saying that it was a perfect casting coup — Sanjay Dutt as Munnabhai, the small time don playing a tapori to perfection, Arshad Warsi as `Circuit,' the Man Friday of Munnabhai, who cracks jokes at the drop of a hat, theatre actor Bomman Irani, the college Dean, and finally Sunil Dutt, who came out of a 16-year exile to play Munnabhai's father.

In fact the emotional scenes between the real life father and son worked wonders for the film. In an interview, Sunil Dutt said: ``I was nervous to face the camera after a self-imposed 16 years exile! But Sanjay was cool like his mother Nargis who was spontaneous in front of the camera.''

"Munnabhai MBBS" is a milestone in Sanjay's career and they say that in spite of all his action movies, Munnabhai is closest to his heart. Said Sanjay Dutt: ``I identified with the character of Munnabhai as I feel it is the real me. I have a great sense of humour and I love giving `jappis' to everyone.'' In more ways than one, it sums up how Dutt was able to make Munnabhai a classic. As Munnabhai would say — ``Ek dum solid film, kya....''

* * *

Hit spawns a sequel

PRODUCER VIDHU Vinod Chopra and director Raj Kumar Hirani were in Chennai recently to attend the audio launch of Kamal Hassan's "Vasool Raja MBBS," the Tamil remake of "Munnabhai MBBS". Excerpts from an exclusive interview:

What, according to you, are the reasons behind the popularity of "Munnabhai MBBS?"

VVC: I think the film spreads happiness and has a message to be a good human being. The audience fell in love with Munnabhai, the good-hearted goon.

RKH: I think the casting was a masterstroke, as all the actors big and small jelled with the characters they played. Abbas Tyrewala's comedy-laced dialogue was an added attraction. People just loved Munnabhai and Circuit's one-liners.

Who was the original choice to play Munnabhai?

VVC: Shah Rukh Khan was the original choice but his back surgery threatened to delay the making of the film. So we opted for Sanjay Dutt.

RKH: Sanjay fitted perfectly into the role and though he has done similar roles before, this one was `different.'

Did you have difficulty in marketing the film?

VVC: Yes. No distributor was willing to come forward and buy it (the film) as they said that a comedy film with its Mumbai lingo will not work at the box-office. Actually "Munnabhai... " did not have a good opening but slowly people started appreciating it as word got around.

RKH: We held nearly 20 previews for the trade. Everyone who saw the film appreciated it but was not willing to take the risk.

Was "Munnabhai" inspired by Robbin Willaims's "Patch Adams?"

VVC: No way. The only similarity was that both the films were set in a Medical school.

RKH: Don't you feel that all love stories made are inspired by Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet?" But "Munnabhai MBBS" is original and that's why it became a cult classic.

Are you planning to make a sequel ?

VVC: You can't exactly say a sequel, but we have been discussing a lot about it. My production company is now making "Parineeta" directed by Pradeep Sarkar starring Sanjay Dutt and Saif Ali Khan, It has mind blowing music by Shantanu Moitra.

RKH: Yes. It will be titled "Munnabhai LLB" and I am working on the script.

Do you think that the "Munnabhai" remake will work at the box-office?

VVS: I am sure that they will do well as superstars like Kamal Hassan, Chiranjeevi are featured in them. The sentiments and comedy will work the same all over the world.

RKH: I have grown up on Kamal Hassan's Tamil films shown at Auroma theatre in Mumbai and he is sure to make it a huge success.


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