The 3 Idiots – it is about the message, stupid!

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.


5 Responses

  1. Couldn’t have agreed more with the review. I did expect a lot more but thing it turned out to be just another Bollywood masala.

  2. Thanks – it was another regular masala that IMHO was downgraded by the silly pop-psychology. Simplistic to an extreme. I have always though Hirani made simplistic films, but this one tried to be overly ambitious – and the two do not go together.

  3. And a detailed statement from Karthik of Millibolg on 3 Idiots:

    Aseem Chhabra has already spoken at length about the ‘feel good’ factor of 3 Idiots. And, many, many people have done more than adequate reviews of the film so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. But, here are some thoughts that crossed my mind as I finally caught up with the most-talked-about film in recent times, last weekend.
    ‘Feel good’ it is, no doubt. But when did ‘feel good’ start including,
    Jokes on farting, however tastefully (!) done?
    Ridiculing authority figures like teachers and professors?
    Generalize and broad-base narrow opinions about the Indian education system, when things are actually improving – away from the mark-centric focus to profession-centric focus?
    Seeking to sympathize with students who pee on their dean’s house, however annoying the dean might be?
    Make blatant and rude fun of accent differences?
    Trust me, I loved the film. It was very, very funny all through. I enjoyed all the gags. Where I do have a problem is with the content.
    Where the book was largely about realistic losers and not extraordinary winners, the film eulogizes ‘a hero’. Rightfully so, since we’ve Aamir Khan as the ‘hero’. He was appropriately part-of-the-group in Rang De Basanti, where he shared credit with the same two co-stars, but here, he behaves pretty much like a mainstream masala hero. Beyond the facade of brilliance and practical application of brilliance, he does the following,
    tells most people to do what he thinks is right
    acts way too smart for his age. This could be perhaps he IS 40+ in reality
    makes every body else look like a fool
    strongly believes that what he is doing is perhaps the only right way to succeed/ excel
    Even if you overlook all this, what is strikingly bizarre is the fact that film disses the way Chatur adopts to succeed (not excel, as the film emphasizes oh-so-often). That goes for a toss, when you see Aamir being a beneficiary to similar material gains Chatur is after…through Chatur’s firm/ Japanese.
    So, Chatur took the book’ish route. Rancho took the innovative route. Both reached somewhere from what their hearts dictated – how does one become better? Just because Rancho applies everything he learns? So, Chatur is a loser in the end? When did Rajkumar Hirani start brushing with such broad strokes, after that brilliant sequel to Munnabhai?
    Plus, most importantly, the excessive focus on how bad our education system seems almost regressive! Do you really think things are this bad? Don’t you see people choosing interesting professions like photography as against engineering? A decade ago, may be all this mark-focus was right, but I frankly think we’ve made some good progress and the film simply misses the point by hammering on what was and not what is.
    That said, I do look forward to Hirani’s next!

  4. and more here:
    Ok, so 3 idiots, the current Bollywood flick is officially the biggest blockbuster of Indian cinema. An amazing movie with a terrific plotline and characters. Topping it all is the brilliant message it delivers encouraging one to follow the heart, rather than go by the conditioning of parents when it comes to choosing ones profession. At the same time it encourages the pursuit of Excellence rather than the pursuit of Success. A nation agrees but I am a little confused.

    The issue is not with the message itself, but by the method through which it is conveyed. Let me explain myself.

    Chatur vs Rancho – Pick Your Hero

    The drama in any story arises when there is conflict between personalities, more so, when they are placed on an even footing. This movie has not one but two conflicts. The first one is between Rancho and the eccentric professor Virus. But they are not equals, so let us keep them aside. The second conflict is between equals Rancho and Chatur.

    Rancho aka Phunsuk Wangru is a born genius who can think differently, act differently, has the capacity to change the world. Then we have Chatur Ramalingam aka Silencer who is our studious boy next door, more interested in the pursuit of success even if it means mugging up the answers to the exam questions or buttering up to the professors. One has an answer to every problem, the other is an ordinary man without any extraordinary prowess.

    Who looks like the hero? It has to be Rancho and that’s what the movie also makes of him at the end. This is where I slightly disagree. According to me, Chatur is the bigger hero.

    Not blessed with natural genius, Chatur nonetheless does well for himself. Proof? The fancy cellphone, super expensive car, mansion, etc that he flashes before his friends at the start of the movie. He is a success achieved purely by hardwork. A virtue which most of us sadly lack. His sheer perseverance to be successful in life must be appreciated but rather he is caricatured in the film much to the delight of the audience. I too being one of the guilty ones who laughed the loudest only to realize much later that I am being taken for a ride. It suddenly dawned on me that its these very Chatur’s that make up a crucial part of the Microsoft’s, Dell’s, Intel’s, Infosys and countless other successful corporations of this world. You really think Rancho would try for a job in any of these places? Even if he did get in, how long would he stick around ?

    One might now argue that Chatur is just another guy running after money, has no real passion in life, passion is all that matters, doing what one likes the most is more important than making money doing mundane things. Rancho might probably go on to become the next Bill Gates, who knows. Hmmm….

    Passionate reality cheque!!!

    “What is my passion?” A question that most people keep thinking of, find an answer too late in life, or worse still, never find it. The latter being most common. This movie encourages one to find their passion and pursue it.

    Well, the problem for me is that my passion isn’t a constant. It changes with time as I get to experience more of life. It’s an ongoing experiment. So am I fair in saying that I am a passionate guy and will do whatever my mind or heart says to me? I wish it could be like that but fortunately or unfortunately, we have more to life than pursuing our passions. We have responsibilities towards our near and dear ones. Goals to achieve, which could be simple things like, how do I impress the girl or guy next door (actually this could be one of your passions, I could be wrong after all), how do I pay my next credit card bill or emi and many other such trivial or real concerns depending on what stage of life one is in? Welcome to reality.

    Unlike the majority of people, luckily Rancho dosent seem to have any such issues in life as he is a loner till almost the end of the movie. Maybe, Kareena can throw some light on how married life is treating her after she settles down with Rancho in Ladhak. Am sure, she will have some interesting titbits to share.

    Moving onto ‘Gulab Jamuns’ and ‘Tom & Jerry’

    When I was very young, my only passion in life was to eat Gulab Jamuns the whole day. I know another friend of mine whose only ambition in life was to just watch Tom & Jerry cartoons even when he was in 12th standard. Imagine if we were to go and tell our parents that we wanted to pursue stuff like eating Gulb Jamuns and watching Tom & Jerry they would certainly think we lost our minds and wouldn’t waste a second to give us a piece of theirs.

    Passions develop over time and unfortunately it is most often during our college years or later that we recognize our true passion. Perhaps because it’s when we experience life out of our comfort zone. Few, who find their passion much earlier in life are the lucky ones who go on to build careers in their chosen fields. What about the rest? Are they doomed? I don’t think so. There is a simple technique to deal with this. Your passions could become your hobbies whenever you discover them. Make enough progress in one field to invest in your passion in another field. This investment could be as simple as time. Time to watch your favourite movies or listen to your favourite music, you don’t necessarily have to be a film maker or a musician to enjoy these passions and by doing so as a hobby it doesn’t make you any less passionate or a lesser mortal than the creator.

    Talking of creators, I would like to shift some gears now and explore another facet of this world, to show why we need more of Chatur’s in this world than the Rancho’s.

    For Every Rancho, this world needs a Million Chatur’s

    Yes, we need the Rancho’s who become the Phunsuk Wangrus of the world, to make their wonderful inventions and make our world better. They are the creators. But the creator is nothing without the consumer. Henry Ford the legendary car maker and industrialist is probably the first man to realize this. He produced one of the largest selling cars ever and also pioneered the start of assembly line culture in industries. He had people doing the most mundane things like fitting screws the whole day at his factories. Yet, he found ways to motivate his workers and make passionate consumers out of them. How did he do it? He introduced the culture of 8 hour work day and the 5 day work week, paid higher salaries. His logic was simple. The workers needed time to go out and enjoy themselves too and not just work 24/7. He thereby indirectly led them to buy his cars, as now they had the time and the resources to have a good life. It was a win win situation for both, as Ford made money selling his cars and the workers had access to a great life. Till this day, this formula is working everywhere. Try hard to deny it, it is the circle of life for most of us, not just for individuals alone but for entire nations too. We are left wondering if we live to work or work to live.

    That is why, I am most convinced that in order to maintain this balance, we need a few million Chatur’s to let the Rancho’s do what they want to do. The man with all the fancy gadgets, the one who enjoys the fruits, Chatur is meant to live a complete and fulfilling life while the Rancho’s of the world are toiling away creating the gadgets of tomorrow.

    All Izz Well that Ends Well

    The purpose of writing this post is not to belittle the intentions of the filmmakers but the message in the movie comes with a little asterisk at the corner. All I have tried here is to make the fine print a little more visible and clear. To be super successful in life you either need to be an eccentric genius like Rancho or achieve success by sheer dint of hardwork like Chatur. There is no middle path. And yes, even if you have the brains of a Rancho you still need to work very hard. Like Thomas Alva Edison once said “Genius is 1% Inspiration and 99% Perspiration”. This point, the movie misses out entirely.

    Before you leave, don’t forget to add your valuable comments below or at the ‘Mind u Read’ Facebook page. Am expecting a great debate on this topic. I remain convinced we need more of Chatur’s ilk for a healthy wealthy balance of this world. Rest, I will leave for you to decide. All izz well, I hope?

  5. And of course a most interesting blog by Pritish Nandy on the Pursuit of excellence – something that was a focus of 3 Idiots – but then it somehow became all about success!!!

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