Do good movies have a pattern in their narrative? A case study of Munnabhai MBBS and Sholay


Watching a movie in a dark cinema hall definitely has some effect on us. Before entering the hall, we might be in any mood (with friends, family or alone), but once we enter the hall and the projector rolls (nowadays the digital projector plays the avi file) one gets involved with the life of the character(s).

Most of us are aware of the making of a film, and some are also familiar with its story. We are fully aware that the actor on screen is totally different from the character on screen. We know all that happening on screen is not real, still we laugh, cry with the characters. We worry if the character is not able to achieve his goal; we are relieved if he safely comes out of the obstacles.

When the film starts, something happens to us. Indian cinema has a different method of getting us involved in the film. It keeps us glued to our seats for 120-180 minutes. It does this through the placement of songs, comedy, drama, and action at various intervals in the film duration. I am not aware if this happens consciously or unconsciously by the writer/director. I presume that all good (and/or successful) films would be having almost the same structure which made a large mass of audience liking it. This article aims to find if there is any such narrative pattern present in good movies.

This article studies two Indian movies: Munnbhai MBBS (2003) and Sholay (1975). The choice of the films is purely based on my interest and liking of the movies. I believe that over the years the narrative structure of Indian cinema would have become constant through the hard efforts of various filmmakers.


The most common narrative structure used in cinema is the 3-Act (narrative) structure. It says that a typical narrative consists of the elements like Setup (ACT I), Confrontation (ACT II) and Resolution (ACT III). These acts are divided in time in the ratio of 1:2:1 of the running time of the movie.  Typically a story is about a protagonist (ACT I), who wants something in his life, for which he faces and an escalating array of conflicts (ACT II) until finally, he gets (or does not get) his goal (ACT III). During this period, the protagonist goes through different emotional ups and downs. This journey has an impact on the audience’s mind.

Making this as a scale to measure the emotional impact of the protagonist’s journey, this paper analyzes a movie as to what is going through the total length of a film when someone is watching it. This paper looks for the introduction of characters, the emotional ups-downs scales (Very sad: 2; Sad: 3; Normal moments: 4, Comedy: 5; Romantic / Fear: 8-9; Medium action / drama: 7; High Action / Drama: 10) during the timeline, the intensity of film during the timeline, the placement of songs in the film, the pace of the narrative, the story narration

 (straightforward or flashback).

Data Analysis:

The movies chosen were released almost 30 years from each other. The basic information of these movies is given in Table 1.

Table 1: Parameters for the selected films

  Sholay Munnabhai MBBS
Year of release 1975 2003
Genre Action-Drama Comedy-Drama
Writer Salim-Javed Rajkumar Hirani, Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Director Ramesh Sippy Rajkumar Hirani
Duration (min) 204 156
Protagonist Thakur, Jai-Veeru Murli Prasad Sharma (Munnabhai)
Antagonist Gabbar Singh Dr. J. Asthana
No. of scenes 58 64
Average scene length (min:sec) 3:52 2:12


For the narrative structure of Sholay, considering intermission to be the exact midpoint of the story, it happens at a duration of 110 min into the film. Similarly, for Munnabhai MBBS, it is at 87 min of the film.  Dividing the length of the film in the ratio of typical 3 act structure i.e. 1:2:1, the ACT I and ACT II should end at 55 min and 150 min respectively for Sholay. These same values are 33 min and 120 mins for Munnabhai MBBS. The detailed narrative structure is represented in the following Figure 1 and Figure 2.

Figure 1: Narrative structure of Sholay

Figure 2: Narrative structure of Munnabhai MBBS


Analyzing the narrative structure of both popular movies, we can see a similar pattern of narrative, i.e. a mix-up and down of emotional flow of the character journey.  Both the film narrative could be said to have been very closely similar. Although there are other factors that are dependent on the narrative of a film and what goes into the writer’s mind, it could be said that most of the successful films in India would have similar emotional narrative structure and vice-versa.

Interesting? If you found any doubts pour them in the below-given email id

Bhushan Kankal

[email protected]