My Issues with 3 Idiots

Previously published on Passionforcinema –

Recently I heard Raju Hirani, giving an acceptance speech after receiving either the Screen or Filmfare award. I can’t make out which one is which, now a days. In this quote-he dedicated his award “To the teachers who teach from heart”. Somehow I sensed a bit of self righteousness this time in one of my favorite directors. The kind of smugness you achieve when your flawed product achieves huge box office success. That’s when you tune yourself off from any murmurs of complaint from any corner and start believing every ounce (and some more) of the praise that comes your way. I think the best example I can think of for comparison was Sanjay Leela Bhansali after Devdas. Devdas was a highly flawed film, a fact well known by now, but was hugely successful when it released. In his interviews right after, SLB would smugly talk about how he went about creating the classic and would spit at all the critics who were pointing to the flaws in the film. The result of that attitude resulted in Saawariya. I hope that’s not the case here with Raju.

Somehow Raju Hirani stayed humble and true to his roots when he made one of the most difficult films in India cinema, that is Lage Raho Munna Bhai. I call that difficult because he brought up one of the most serious subjects with his audience, the subject that we in the audience keep hiding under the carpet, the kind of discussion we want to keep avoiding, the legend of Bapu that we want to keep pretending that never happened. He brought the subject up, thrust it right in our face and yet he did it in a very entertaining style, without being preachy even for one moment. Now, that was triumph! But no, back then, Raju Hirani stayed humble, not sure if it was the Bapu effect. But this time around, in a highly flawed story, with huge gaps and loopholes and if I may dare say, even a flawed message, he managed to deliver a far bigger hit, in fact if the marketing sources are to be believed, the biggest all-time hit of Indian cinema. I won’t blame Raju if he gets a bit smug and even arrogant.

I am writing this without denying that I got my full paisa wasool entertainment from the film, laughed out loud in some scenes and even may have cried in some. All kudos to the screen play writing, the dialog writing and the narrating style of Raju, he does know how to get the most out of a scene. But I cringe when I hear people, including my close friends, declaring it a masterpiece, a classic. Some of them are the friends that went to the same college that I went to, had similar experiences that I had. I am sorry I didn’t want to write another review on 3 Idiots when there were umpteen numbers of reviews and write-ups around the release of the film. But I did have something to say about the film, and couldn’t hold back any longer. So, bear with me, for another piece on 3 Idiots.

I had read the novel about 3 years back, had liked it, had found it breezy reading. Not great, but likeable enough! While Chetan Bhagat, did create unrealistic situations to drive home the humor, the premise, the plot points and the characters remained real and believable. Besides, the book wasn’t trying to deliver a message, there was a suicide in the book too, but it appeared simply as a plot point. The film maintained that mood in the beginning few scenes, particularly until Aamir Khan appeared. Aamir didn’t get Ryan’s character at all. He clearly butchered it and at times almost made Ryan look like a retard, particularly with the use of his eyes and facial expressions. Aamir in one of his interviews bragged about how he conceived that character from one of his teenager nephew. The problem is Ryan wasn’t an immature teenager but someone mature beyond his age, someone with a devil may care attitude, someone blessed with extreme self-confidence. But that’s ok, the flaws in Rancho’s characterization and acting was compensated by superb, almost perfect portrayal of Madhavan’s and Sherman’s characters. They came across utterly believable, almost straight out of an engineering college type characters. Raju also got the lingo right, the saale, kamine style of addressing friends, I think they even brought up KLPD somewhere in the dialogs.

The problem started with the central premise of the film and the characterization of the two leading characters in the film. Apart from Aamir, the other character they got wrong was that of Boman’s. Virus’s character was made into a cartoon. And he is shown as Director of the institute and is yet omnipresent. He comes into boys hostel to lecture the students on competition, a very farcical scene that almost reminded me of Amitabh Bachchan in Mohabatten. I wonder if an IIT director has that kind of time to focus on one student. Ok, you want to make a point about following your heart and teachers being too academic and not promoting original thinking, but why make the prof into a cartoon for that. Why not give him also a voice and let him make his counterpoint.

But, to be fair, if you look beyond the cartoonish caricature, they were trying to allow Virus to make his counter-point, at least in couple of the scenes where he explains that it’s his job to push his students to work as hard as they can and in another place where he explains the income levels of the parents of the three students. But the scenes were killed without letting the impact come out.

I almost rose up on my seat to acknowledge the bravery of the scriptwriters when Virus starts explaining the income levels. I was thinking, ok now it gets interesting because that’s exactly the point. To have the kind of confidence and devil may care attitude that Ryan, sorry Rancho is supposed to have, you have to be a rich brat in real life, who doesn’t have to worry about finding a job as soon as you get out. I had many such students in my own class, who could afford to question the system, some of them very bright and original thinkers like Rancho. But then the film killed the point again and again in the film.

First they killed it, when Rancho started topping the class again and again. He then became a superhero at that moment, not a normal human being anymore. The fact is, no matter, how brilliant a mind you got, how original thinker you are, you still had to slog to get grades. Granted, you could still top a subject or two. There were some subjects such as Machine Drawing that you either get or you don’t, no matter what your IQ level is. But topping every subject, without any effort, while you are having fun drinking alcohol on the rooftop? I am sorry but that just doesn’t happen. No, I am not saying that you have to be Chatur to top the class. The reality is, the people who top the class are all very smart students, way different from Chatur, but they also have to slog harder than everyone else. I can say that, because I was a good student and slogged my ass off, still couldn’t top the class. Those who did, slogged harder than me and were brighter than me. It was never only one thing; you had to have both- IQ and the ability to work hard.

So, original thinkers like Ryan or Rancho would never top the class, but that’s the whole point. They didn’t need to. They didn’t care about grades, they didn’t need grades, they cared about something beyond that, and I can bet that some of the Ryans and Ranchos of my batch could be more successful today than the toppers, simply because they had more rounded set of skills to succeed in life outside the campus. If the message was, you should not follow grades, but gain and apply knowledge, and develop a broader set of skills that are needed in the real world, then it got killed by showing Rancho getting the best of the grades, all the time.

The character of Ranhco completely feel apart when he turned out to be a servant’s son. Why did they have to add that twist? To add to the drama? To increase the length of the film? I have no idea. He may have been smart, because you don’t need money to get the brains but where did he get the attitude of a rich brat, the confidence to take on the system, to be his own self? You don’t have this problem with Ryan’s character in the book.

My other issue with the plot was about following your heart. It’s easier said than done. Have you ever wondered what you knew and how aware of yourself you were at the age when you entered college? Did you have any clue what you wanted to do or what you liked to do at that age? I certainly didn’t and know that 95% of my class didn’t either. We probably had some idea about what would be cool but was that something we would love doing, we had no clue. In fact, there are very few people who are lucky enough to know what they want to do in life and even fewer who figure that out so early in their lives. To me, they are clearly Gods’ children. Even in the field of Sports or Show business which are full of stories of people who just followed their dreams, there are very few people like Sachin Tendulkar who knew at an early age what they wanted to do in life. Remember that dialog in the film Iqbal, where Naseer explains to the parents of Shreyas’s character, what a special thing it is to know what you want to do in life. That’s so true. I am in my late thirties and I still don’t know what makes me happy and what would have been an ideal thing or profession for me. I wish it were as easy as they show in films, click a few pictures of animals and voila you are a born wild life photographer! For most of us in real life, it’s a lifelong journey to know yourself, to figure out what works for you as an individual. And, some of us will never figure it out.

Now let’s examine that from parent’s perspective. I am sure, any loving parent would be happy to support their kids if they knew what would make their kids happy. But the problem is how do you figure out if the kid really knows what he or she wants? How do you figure out if it’s not an infatuation that will soon fade with the first brush of reality? Unfortunately, our system and society in general doesn’t give you a second chance. Even in USA, where youngsters take slightly longer to figure out what they want in life, people change their profession sometimes two or three times in the early part of their life, parents are extremely cautious and try to manage and guide their kids to focus on options they have in front of them, instead of chasing some wild dream. My ex manager, a white American recently described me how his entire family was completely stressed out for almost 3 months because one of his daughters suddenly declared that she wasn’t interested in joining college. Instead, she wanted to join Marine Corps. Where she could play in band and start making money as a musician from day one. Her logic was, “Why bother going through college when all I want to be is a musician and I am getting the opportunity to be one now instead of several years later”. I believe that parents also want their kids to chase their dreams, but they know from their own life experiences how hard it is know which dream to chase.

In the end, my objective wasn’t to trash the film, but just to raise few points that were going on in my mind and wanted to see if others feel the same way. As I said, I enjoyed the film a lot and have already watched it two or three times.


2 comments so far

  1. rohan arora on

    i completely agree with what you have written here. But i guess the good thing about hindi movies (most of them) is that they are never meant to be taken seriously.
    Suspension of disbelief is an important aspect of watching a hindi movie!!

    • Wise Desi on

      Thanks for your comment! You may be right, but lot of us don’t think so :-). For a spirited debate on the topic, follow the link to my original post on PFC

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