The World of Rajkumar Hirani: Where All is Well Despite Some Chemical Locha

Bollywood

The World of Rajkumar Hirani: Where All is Well Despite Some Chemical Locha

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

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t’s not easy being earnest in Bollywood. But if one man can do it, without appearing completely fake and with just the right amount of saccharine, it’s Rajkumar Hirani.

From what we know of Rajkumar Hirani via the public domain, the filmmaker’s life before films was a lot like Farhan’s from 3 Idiots. Senior Hirani, much like Farhan’s father, wanted his son to take up a white-collar job and become a chartered accountant. But Rajkumar Hirani wanted to be a film director, and the journey to the director’s chair wasn’t going to be an easy one.

He failed to get into FTII and had a forgettable run as an aspiring actor – but the Nagpur lad didn’t lose hope. And like one of his famous characters, retained a “Tension Nahi Leneka” attitude. He opted for an editing course instead. Eventually, when he did complete his course, editing jobs didn’t come easy and he worked as an ad executive for several years.

Finally, at 41, he got his directorial break with Munna Bhai MBBS, a film that redefined family-friendly entertainment.

One of my fondest childhood outings remains going to the theatre to watch Munna Bhai – dad almost fell off his seat laughing and mum and I couldn’t stop laughing at him. Together, we welled up when Munna gives the cleaner Maqsood Bhai the warmest jadoo ki jhappi ever. Even today, Boman Irani’s laughter-therapy-endorsing Dr Asthana remains up there with Hera Pheri’s Baburao when it comes to pure side-splitting comic timing. And Anand Bhai, who is awakened from his vegetative state because of Munna’s camaraderie, has become a cult character – at least as far as I am concerned.

Whether it’s a goon walking down the halls of a medical college or an alien trying to decipher man’s obsession with idol worship, stories from the Hiraniverse are as original as they are eccentric.

With Munna Bhai, Hirani created for us a world full of slice-of-life characters that keep evolving, keep mutating, in small and big ways across his other films. His humour, feel-good narratives, and finger-on-the-pulse messaging blend together to form, what I like to call the “Hiraniverse”. Its inhabitants are like India’s Everymen and women – simple people who often have complex backstories and lead double lives.  

Sanjay Dutt’s Munna is like every Indian child – too afraid to confront his parents when he fails to live up to their expectations. He’s scared to tell them about how he turned into an accidental goon. Rancho from 3 Idiots is forced to keep his identity secret from his friends and girlfriend for reasons he considers bigger than himself. Both stories follow an unusual yet lovable protagonist getting embroiled in a strange, unfamiliar world. Both eventually overcome these mad odds while simultaneously teaching us important, heartwarming lessons. All this, with at least one scene of Boman Irani frustratedly pulling his hair out because his arch nemesis has managed to seduce his daughter.

Whether it’s a goon walking down the halls of a medical college or an alien trying to decipher man’s obsession with idol worship, stories from the Hiraniverse are as original as they are eccentric. They are packed with timeless sequences that remain etched in the memory of moviegoers – evidence of Hirani’s canniness and ability to understand just what makes Indians tick.

I can barely keep count of how many times I’ve rewatched Chatur’s hilarious speech from 3 Idiots, PK’s quest to find a dancing car, and Munna’s theory of the Kissing Car. The scenes that make you cry are just as impactful – Farhan and Raju’s “tohfa qubool karo” from 3 Idiots, and Lage Raho’s sappy reunion between Munna and Circuit.

Rajkumar Hirani

Sanjay Dutt’s Munna is like every Indian child – too afraid to confront his parents when he fails to live up to their expectations.

Image credit: Vidhu Vinod Chopra

In a recent Anupama Chopra interview, Hirani and long-time collaborator, scriptwriter Abhijat Joshi clarified why each sequence in their films feel like mini-movies. During the writing process, the two explained, they go through several iterations to ensure that every scene is either punched up enough to invoke laughter or made dramatic enough to evoke an emotional reaction. So segments from their films have astounding stand-alone value.

And that, inherently, is the magic of Raju Hirani – the films stay with you long after you’ve left the cinema hall. I’ve turned to them time and again for answers and for direction: When I was unsure what to pursue after college, when I needed some cheering up, and sometimes just for the laughs.

Sure, the Raju Hirani fan club might not be the coolest one to be in right now, given that his most recent outing was his most mediocre. Despite my initial denial, I’ve had to begrudgingly agree that Sanju, in many places, pandered to the auteur’s controversial muse. Though I wouldn’t worry much about what’s next for Bollywood’s most bankable filmmaker.

Because if the Hiraniverse has taught us anything, everyone has their share of chemical lochas. But in the end “All izz well”.

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