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It took a comedy to revive Gandhi's ideals in India

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Monday, India paused to remember the life of Mohandas Gandhi. Like every year on this national holiday commemorating the birth of the Father of India, there were grand words, garlands, and one nagging question: Is this little man, swaddled in homespun cloth and armed only with his own reason, still relevant in an India of Internet millionaires and nuclear weapons?

This year, an answer and a revival of sorts has come from a most unexpected source – a Bollywood comedy about a witless Mumbai gangster.

Puneet Sood, a smartly dressed software analyst fresh out of college, says he "could never relate to Gandhi before this movie." Yet "Lage Raho Munnabhai," with its light-hearted take on a gangster's conversion to Gandhian nonviolence, is providing the perfect antidote to decades of solemn ceremonies and austere textbooks, which have increasingly cast Gandhi as a museum piece of impractical ideals.

For some young Indians, it has been a call to action. For example, college students in Lucknow recently abandoned a history of violent protests in favor of handing out flowers – a tactic taken directly from the film. Far more, however, echo the feelings of Mr. Sood when he says that this Oct. 2, he looked at Gandhi with new eyes – perhaps not converted, but certainly understanding better why a nation in crisis came to call him "Bapu," father.

"Gandhi was beginning to be forgotten in some ways," says Vamsee Juluri, a professor of media studies at the University of San Francisco. "This movie has rediscovered Gandhi as a universal figure."

To the broader world, it might seem strange that Gandhi – the man who adorns every rupee note and is synonymous with the liberation of India – should be forgotten in his own country. But there are few here who would argue the point.

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