Gandhi, the new pop icon


Lage raho munnabhai was definitely better than Kabhi alwida na kehna for the oscars. Who knows what might then have happened.

A Bollywood comedy about a gangster's tryst with Indian freedom movement leader Mahatma Gandhi is proving a hit across the country, inspiring people to emulate his pacifist ideals, often with humorous results.

"Lage Raho Munnabhai" (Carry on Munnabhai), which was released last month, is the story of a lovable Mumbai goon who must dodge barbs from Gandhi to win his ladylove while battling a wicked businessman creating hurdles for his romance.

As Munna and Gandhi wrestle over their philosophies, they pit thuggery against passive resistance, lying against truth and drinking against prohibition, triggering a process of reforming the gangster in the name of love.

Within weeks, the slapstick comedy laced with streetside slang, has raced to become one of Bollywood's biggest hits of the year and triggered a renewed interest in Gandhi's ideals, nearly 59 years after he fell to the bullets of an assassin.

Such has been the popularity of "Lage Raho" that a senior leader of India's ruling Congress party, of which Mahatma Gandhi was a member, asked all members of a key decision making unit to watch the film to refresh their memories.

The social wave created by "Lage Raho" is called "Gandhigiri" or the use of moral force to assert a point of view as the gangster does, as opposed to "dadagiri" or the use of brutal force.

"Gandhigiri" clubs are being set up in some cities to tame reckless drivers and corrupt officials by handing them flowers with a smile just as Munna and his followers do in "Lage Raho."

Shops around the country have reported a sudden new interest in books and memorabilia relating to Gandhi as well as "khadi," the handspun fabric the leader made famous during his campaign against British colonial rule.

Last week, dozens of people including academics, doctors and lawyers in the northern city of Lucknow marched to the office of the district administrator to give him roses after he reportedly criticized the "Gandhigiri" of some student protesters.

In the southern city of Hyderabad, Shweta Polanki was reported to have dumped her boyfriend when he made hissing noises to catch the waiter's attention at a restaurant -- a sign of disrespect for a worker according to "Gandhigiri."

"Gandhigiri" also touched Babloo Srivastava, an alleged real-life mafia don, who decided to distribute dozens of roses and talk about love and peace at a Lucknow court where he was brought from jail for a hearing in one of the many cases that link him to murder, kidnapping and extortion.

Critics and sociologists said the "Lage Raho" phenomena could be attributed to the film simplifying Gandhi's lofty ideals had conveying it in contemporary, colloquial language.

Actor Sanjay Dutt, who plays gangster Munna in the film -- and is awaiting the verdict of a Mumbai court for his alleged role in the 1993 serial bomb blasts in the city -- said he had not expected "Gandhigiri" to sweep the country like it has.

"Gandhiji, looking down from heaven, must be happy to see a nation reawakened," he said in an interview published on Monday.

A report in Washington Post

BACK to the Main Page