Monday, 17 January, 2022
HomeOpinionRajkumar Hirani is Bollywood's 'middle-class reformer', making us swallow the hard pill

Rajkumar Hirani is Bollywood’s ‘middle-class reformer’, making us swallow the hard pill

Rajkumar Hirani is Bollywood's Shri Shri of feel-good keywords — from 'jadu ki jhappi' to 'aall izz well'.

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Bollywood director Rajkumar ‘Raju’ Hirani has been making Indians swallow a hard pill without flinching, hesitating or offending. It is an art Hirani has mastered. From corruption to superstition to the Great IIT Race — he has attacked all modern anxieties of India. That makes him a middle-class reformer.  He’s the Shri Shri of feel-good keywords — jadu ki jhappi and aall izz well.

Life mein jab time kam rehta hai na… double jeena ka, double” — these words were spoken by Munna in Munna Bhai MBBS (2003). From a local goon enrolled in a medical college to a patient in a vegetative state — these characters are an embodiment of the Nagpur-born filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani’s filmography. His socially-conscious films with characters from middle-class society in the lead often inspire a simple message: To live life to the fullest.

In over 20 years in the Hindi film industry, Hirani may only have six films to his credit as a director, but he is often hailed as one of the best filmmakers of his time. Why so? The simplicity and authenticity of his characters, no matter if they are called Ranchodas Shamaldas Chanchad, Circuit, Jagat Janani, Chatur (a.k.a. Silencer) or Phunsukh Wangdu, evoke a ‘this is me’ sentiment. The Bollywood director, who turns 59 today, likes to keep it “quirky”.

With no release in the offing, Hirani’s last directorial venture came in 2018 with Sanju, a biopic based on actor Sanjay Dutt’s controversial life. It was a big hit despite Hirani receiving criticism, a rarity for him, for whitewashing a flawed protagonist while accusing the media of bias.

Hirani’s perfect record at the box office, however, is no fluke. His first directorial venture may have been a blockbuster, but his success has not been an overnight miracle. He worked in advertising and as a film editor before taking on the mantle of directorship. He has also edited all the films he directed.

Also Read: Sanjay Dutt’s Sanju is so busy abusing media that it forgets how evil 1993 plot was

‘Raju apna sa lagta hai’

Hirani has emerged as one of the best storytellers in the history of contemporary cinema. He is often hailed as the “Christopher Nolan of Bollywood”, regardless of how different their filmography has been so far. So much so, that when Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan was asked on Twitter during an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session who he would choose between The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) director Martin Scorsese and Interstellar (2014) filmmaker Christopher Nolan, he chose Hirani over the two international film directors.

The good news for fans is that SRK and Hirani will be teaming up for a film soon.

So what sets Hirani apart from his contemporaries? He may have similar ingredients or a set formula, but the way it is served is subtle and different. In his own admission, Hirani said the idea for his debut film, Munna Bhai MBBS, came from stories of corruption he heard from his friends in the medical field. He challenged the notions, assumptions, and stereotypes in religion in PK (2014). In the 2009 film 3 Idiots, he laid bare the failures of higher-education institutions in Indian society. Through it all, he stayed attuned to the emotions of his audience.

He has worked with a sizable number of big names in his films, however, the story has always remained the hero. How the audience relates to each character says a lot about how well-crafted they are. There is a little bit of all of us in Rajkumar Hirani films. His observant eye over the psyche of middle-class Indian society engages the audience in the hero’s journey, rather than leaving them a passive spectator.

Be it Farhan Qureshi of 3 Idiots, who has been living under the guise of an obedient child while sitting on his dream of being a wildlife photographer, or Munna of Munna Bhai MBBS, who pretends to be a doctor only to avoid disappointing his father. All of us, at some point or the other in our lives, have played these roles.

Hirani’s characters not only make us empathise with them, they also make us question our beliefs. In PK, he had to summon an alien to expose the methods of saffron-clad babas who set out to exploit people blinded by faith. In Lage Raho Munna Bhai, a shady businessman is dealt with through ‘Gandhi-giri’. From the history books to day-to-day conversations, Hirani found a way to make ‘bapu’ cool.

Hirani’s films don’t play by the rules of conventional Bollywood, where the hero saves the day by defeating the bad guy. His antagonists across the spectrum may be of a similar kind, but no one comes with an ‘evil intention’. Be it, Dr Asthana, Viru Sahastrabudhhe or Lakhbir Singh (all played by actor Boman Irani), all of them are shaped by the stigma and prejudices of the modern society and come around to realise and amend their flaws as the story progresses.

Also Read: Sanju is dishonest to Rajkumar Hirani’s Gandhian brand of cinema

What’s in the name

Seldom do we see the dialogues of a movie become as popular as the film itself. But in Hirani’s case, quite often, the dialogues have outlived the movie. “Jaadu ki jhappi”, “aall izz well” are catchphrases that need no introduction. They have transformed from being a mere dialogue to emotion in everyday life. They have a life of their own now.

So far, the 59-year-old director has worked with a select group of actors, often repeating the likes of Sanjay Dutt, Boman Irani and Aamir Khan. As long as the story is the star of his films, he could bring out the best of any newbie. Case in point — Omi Vaidya in 3 Idiots.

In a cut-throat Bollywood industry, where his contemporaries like Anurag Kashyap and Vishal Bhardwaj continuously experiment with the genres to test their versatility, Hirani has delivered back-to-back superhits while sticking to his brand of feel-good cinema and has managed to create a niche for himself with just a handful of films.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

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