How is it that a movie with grim themes (academic pressure, student suicides, frustrated ambitions) can make you feel uplifted and hopeful as you leave the theater? Director Rajkumar Hirani accomplishes this neat trick in 3 Idiots, the blockbuster movie of 2009/10. Loosely inspired by Chetan Bhagat’s debut novel Five Point Someone (also a mega blockbuster), 3 Idiots takes on the Indian academic establishment the way Hirani’s two earlier movies took on the medical establishment (Munnabhai M.B.B.S) and apathy in Indian society (Lage Raho Munnabhai).
The cleverness of the movie is to knead its core message of following your dreams with a crackling good tale of college friendship and a neat little mystery story to serve up an authentic Indian tandoori roti. The gentle directive is not under-emphasized, but by letting the suffering of the characters convey the message and allowing for plenty of college high-jinks to divert the audience, writers Hirani and Abhijat Joshi keep the viewers’ attention engaged and, at the same time, make us care fiercely about the fates of these hapless youth.
When friends Raju Rastogi(Sharman Joshi) and Farhan Qureshi(Madhavan) discover a lead to their missing friend Rancho(Aamir Khan) several years after they have parted ways at college, they drop everything to follow the clue, such is their loyalty. They connect with the fourth protagonist of the movie, Chatur Ramalingam(Omi Vaidya), the hard-working, rule-abiding nemesis of their college years (and an unfortunate revert to stereotype) and set off on a journey to find Rancho. The story of their years in the Imperial College of Engineering is told as a flashback narrated by Farhan.
Each Idiot represents a type: Raju is the bright son of an impoverished family; their hopes and finances depend on him so completely that he is terrified of failure. Farhan is the wannabe wildlife photographer whose parents’ ambitions for him completely subsume his own as he resigns himself to a future in engineering. Rancho is the only one of them who loves engineering with a passion, but his back story is pretty complicated too. Ultimately, the movie seems to say, it is the blindly obedient Chatur with his marble-topped, maple-floored home with matching Lamborghini who is the real idiot.
Aamir Khan is completely credible as a college student; I would not have believed it if I hadn’t seen the film. As a friend joked, “Engineering college tends to age you. You look like a 40-year-old once you’ve been through it.” Aamir is ably supported by Joshi and Madhavan but the scene-stealer of the movie is Omi Vaidya as Chatur, whose obnoxious behavior will be so familiar to collegians of any age. Kareena has a pretty minor role, but Boman Irani as her dad, the dreaded Professor Viru(s) Sahasrabuddhe hams his way marvelously through the movie, complete with lisp.
3 Idiots makes no claims of being a “meaningful” film. Rather, it takes the prevailing educational environment in India (bright children forced to go into medical or engineering) and weaves a ripping good movie around it. Its focus on entertainment rather than didactism is its strength, even if that allows for a really absurd situation of a baby being delivered via vacuum cleaner! It is a completely mainstream movie, with all the masala movie’s exaggerations and drama, which is perhaps why it found such a responsive and diverse audience around the world.
Lately there’s been a controversy surrounding the movie about its fidelity to Bhagat’s book and how much credit to be given to the latter. I have to confess that I read the book a long time ago and recall only the haziest outline. It seems there have been some characters drawn from the book and some situations, but the consensus opinion seems to be that the movie has departed significantly from the book. Also, Bhagat’s initial acceptance of the movie undermines his later claim that he was given short shrift. But no matter who ultimately gets the credit for the story/screenplay/script, 3 idiots is a terrific movie that thoroughly deserves its success.
My rating : 4. 5 out of 5 stars.