'Munnabhai' makers jokingly pitched Gandhi as 'topless item number'

Panaji: Admitting they suffered from anxiety about making a film about Mahatma Gandhi, the makers of 2006 blockbuster "Lage Rago Munnabhai" Friday said they had even jokingly pitched the character of Gandhi as a "topless item number" to potential distributors, who were worried about losing their money over the project.

"Lage Rago Munnabhai" director Rajkumar Hirani and producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra said this at a discussion on the legacy of Richard Attenborough at the 45th International Film Festival of India (IFFI). 

"Lage Rago Munnabhai" director Rajkumar Hirani and producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra"Lage Rago Munnabhai" director Rajkumar Hirani and producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra (L)

Chopra explained how anxious film distributors came up to him, with a suggestion to include an 'item number' in the film that gave a contemporary twist to Gandhian philosophy.

"So when we were making the film, the distributors were very scared because they were wondering 'what are these guys doing with Gandhi?'.

"I remember them clearly coming up to me and say, 'hope you have included an item number, to ensure that our (investment) is safe'. I said yes... (there's) an absolutely good item. The item runs through the film," Chopra said, before Hirani completed the story for him.

"He (Chorpa) actually said 'topless item hai'," Hirani said, to peals of laughter in the audience.

Mahatma Gandhi was known to wear only a dhoti with the torso bare.

On the making of the blockbuster Sanjay Dutt-starrer, which brought the principles of Mahatma Gandhi back in the popular consciousness, albeit with a funny twist, Hirani said Gandhi-bashing had become a fashion.

"When we were growing up, Gandhi just meant a chapter in my history book, a face on the currency note, or a picture on a government office wall," the ace director said.

He said viewing Attenborough's film "Gandhi" changed the way he viewed the "Father of the Nation".

Translating Gandhi's teachings to a modern, young audience was one of the film's greatest achievements, he said.

According to Chopra, making "Lage Raho Munnabhai" was critical as well as a huge risk.

"We had this absolute fear that the film will come out and we'll be dead," he said.

Chopra said he feared public protest about the 'radical' manner in which the film portrayed Gandhi, and that would lead to a ban.

Some protests did happen, but the sheer success of the movie ensured that they subsequently petered out.

"The concept of Gandhigiri, the fact that you can talk about Gandhi with affection and love and not just reverence and respect. That Gandhi can be your friend and your teacher and not a saint you look at and pray. That was the most difficult thing we had to encounter, while writing it and filming it," Chopra said.

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