Any review of a film like Three Idiots must needs be undertaken at a few levels. At the most superficial level, the film is a simple comedy about life in an engineering college hostel, full of gags and puerile humor – but films like Singh is Kinngg and Kambakht Ishq have shown us that this kind of humor works! Three guys meet, one is UNIQUE and smart without trying, GENIUS even – Rancho or Ranchoddass. They bond over lots of time spent in the hostel bathroom and drinking on the rooftop. The headmaster is a tartar and in an attempt to foil him they get into trouble, are nearly thrown out except that Rancho miraculously fashions a baby vacuum device to deliver the headmaster’s grandson on the college ping-pong table. Then Rancho mysteriously disappears, and the other two Idiots go on a search for Rancho, find him and ALL IZZ WELL.
Well that is the story in a nutshell and it is simplistic, like most efforts by Raju Hirani, and it is full of moments that you will laugh at. But Raju Hirani is not like Hrishikesh Mukherjee – he is not happy simply serving us a slice of everyday life. The slice has to be garnished with a message, some life changing message that will make us go WOW! He tried it with the two MunnaBhai films and tries to top that effort with his latest film.
So after JAADU KI JHAPPI and GANDHIGIRI, what is the message this time around? It is actually something we saw in TZP, to let a student (child there, adult here) do their thing! In the age of scientific innovations and inventions, the main message to parents is to stop forcing the kids to be engineers. The message to the teachers is to teach differently – to stop teaching theory and to teach engineers how to make baby-suction machines, little choppers with cameras, and so on and so forth. The message is that these hard-ass professors are forcing students to commit suicide, that deadlines are meaningless and that deadlines force students to suicide. Three times students attempt suicide, twice successfully, and the headmaster is told it was MURDER. I am reminded of a cousin telling us that kids were not being allowed to be kids – the HATYARA master hired to get us to complete our homework was eating into our playtime! I just saw a Tweet from someone who was inspired by 3 Idiots to go and kill all his teachers from Engineering school!! How much does parental expectation weigh a 19 or 20 year old down? The message of Joseph Campbell telling people to follow their bliss is one to keep in mind here. I found this part the hardest to swallow as I was able to forge my own path and make my own choices despite strong parental pressures and directives. Not once did any of it make a thought of suicide flit across my consciousness. Parents do try to live their life vicariously through that of their children, desperately trying to make sure their child does not make the same mistakes they did, BUT each generation has to make its own mistakes and learn from them! Hirani’s message is too ham-fisted to even register as anything meaningful. Coming to teachers – innovating in teaching is indeed necessary. BUT in 3 IDIOTS all we see are two teachers, and nothing there about exactly WHAT is wrong with the teaching methods. If we are to believe the headmaster, this is the premiere engineering institution – so can we compare it to the IITs? And then can we say that teaching is useless and by rote there? Do students come out having accumulated useless knowledge?
At the next level we can examine if the message in 3 Idiots is practical, and responsible. This is an era when enrollment in the pure sciences has seen a drop across the globe. And it is not because of lack of demand, the challenges to innovate in physics, math, chemistry and biology continue unabated. BUT today children of the elite are going into management – it represents instant and good money. And the ordinary working class kids who can speak the speak want to work in call centers, again instant money – so engineering seems a soft target! But what the film-makers forget is that the Indian engineering colleges created the brain power that is running technology in many a country, it has given us a sort of intellectual superiority in the tech game. Is it practical to deem it all useless? What exactly is wrong? Is it teaching by rote? Can innovation and practical knowledge be absorbed without theory? What is the way to teach a populace that has come through a school system where memorizing is the way to excel? These obvious questions need to be answered, but before that they have to be posed, and they never are! Grades are deemed unimportant but in situations where 300 apply for campus interviews – even selection for interviews based on grades! One wonders how the Sharman Joshi character ever got to the interview table after coming last in class CONSISTENTLY!
Next I want to examine the script of 3 Idiots. The film is full of comic gags, many of which are so stale as to not even be funny anymore. The Astronaut pen thing is old as the hills. The late exam scene is copied from an ad film, Rancho is a gardener’s son and a genius who is discovered by the teachers doing math well above his level on the board, just as Will is a janitor and genius who is discovered solving high level math problems in Good Will Hunting! Sloppy writing not expected from Mr. Hirani’s team. There are coincidences galore, a student dies just as his project is completed by Rancho, sent soaring to his room height and the camera sees him hanging from the ceiling. Boman’s own son has committed suicide from parental pressures! And while evoking a 60s B and W film in Sharman’s near destitute family is good for some laughs, the family is really that way and is used in several gags in a near tasteless way. The prime one is taking the paralyzed father to the hospital strapped to a scooter, and then telling the comatose Sharman that his mother has a new sari., father is well now and sister is getting married without dowry. Was this supposed to make me laugh or cry? Replacing chamatkar with balatkar was good to hear about twice – at the 15th time it began to pall. An why was replacing “dhan” with “stan” even funny at all? The cool and laughing minister quickly lost his cool at that one! The teaspoon peeing + electrocution gag seems to have been a favorite of Mr. Hirani’s, as he uses it twice! And baring the butt at he slightest provocation, peeing on the headmaster’s door, and stealing an exam all seem to be fair game in the film. Give me Rocket Singh’s candid admission of pass with 37% after grace marks ANY DAY!
Finally, one can examine the film at the technical level for the acting and music and cinematography. The acting was GOOD all around. Barring a few wildly bug-eyed moments, Aamir Khan was able to portray a 20 year old. But his character had a smug snarkiness that was less than appealing. And how on earth did he become a Lama? Sharman was excellent as always, even though he was always in a kurta to remind us of his poor poor family. Madhavan was adequate – in the college parts he had his hair arranged over his forehead very much like Hritik did in the early part of Lakshya – so that is how one looks YOUNG? And his antics to get the plane to land were poorly written and improbable to an extreme in today’s day and age. Kareena had a decent role and she did a good job at it. The music was middling. ALL IZZ WELL was full of energy – but that gag was seriously overused – particularly in the strange and poorly written scene on the ping pong table. Zoobi Doobi was decent, but it lacked the energy required of such songs. The other songs were situational and fit in well. Ladakh posed well for Mr. Hirani and the film had a slick feel that the two MunnaBhai films lacked. All in all I think the film was much less than it could have been and certainly not at the level of the two previous films by Raju Hirani. The message was muddled and poorly developed and the gags childish and sometimes stale. I had expected more from this one.