Munnabhai M.B.B.S.BMJ 2004; 328 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.328.7443.841 (Published 01 April 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:841
Directed by Rajkumar Hirani
On general release in India
Check locally for release dates elsewhere
Bollywood (India's version of Hollywood, based in Mumbai) makes about 200 movies annually. Doctors in these movies are usually saints and most manage complex medical procedures, such as cardiac surgery in outpatient departments, and diagnose pregnancy by feeling the pulse. So a Hindi movie that uses correct medical terminology and real locations—I recognised the anatomy lecture hall of my medical school and cannot express the warm feeling that came over me—is bound to stand out. That this movie also has its audiences splitting their sides makes it unique.
The plot is simple: an underworld don and hoodlum pretends that he is a doctor running a charitable clinic in the city to please his parents who live in a village. When the truth gets out, his parents are shattered. The only way that he can atone for his sins is by becoming a doctor. To do this, he needs to enter medical college and pass his exams. Readers will need to see the film to find out whether or not he succeeds.
Many of the one liners are most likely to be best understood by those with a Mumbai background. And doctors will appreciate the black humour better than others. But all viewers are likely to find the film hilarious, as well as well acted. This month Sunjay Dutt, who plays Munnabhai, won India's equivalent of the best actor Oscar.
Beneath the surface humour there is a hidden—or perhaps not so hidden—message throughout. As if inspired by Patch Adams, the Robin Williams film about a doctor who believes in laughter as the best medicine, Munnabhai M.B.B.S. exhorts doctors to be more humane towards patients. There are references to senior staff regarding patients as exhibits, which is most humiliating for patients as I know from my own experience as a patient when a classmate saw me purely as an “interesting case.” While some scenes stretch credibility—for example, when the medical school dean (played marvellously by Boman Irani) states that empathy is unnecessary and patients must be seen purely from a scientific perspective—surely we all know doctors who could do with a little more humanity.
Some of the funny episodes are based on real life incidents—which, of course, are not that funny but instead rather worrying. For example, Munnabhai uses his cellular phone (among other creative methods) to cheat in examinations. Such activity has been reported in India recently. There is also a scene where gangsters enter the hospital in the middle of the night, which is obviously based on an incident that took place about 10 years ago. There is also a takeoff of laughter therapy as an alternative medicine.
As one who firmly believes that physicians must read outside their profession to become better doctors, I found myself strongly recommending Munnabhai M.B.B.S. to all my colleagues. They will find it a riot and some will perhaps reflect on it.
The producer seems to have recognised that he has found a winning formula, and we now hear that Munnabhai LLB is apparently in the pipeline. Having seen that laughter is the best medicine, will we now learn that the law's an ass?