Saturday, December 26, 2009

3 Idiots 

Can’t argue with success. When Vidhu Vinod Chopra produces a film with Rajkumar Hirani as director, Aamir Khan as leading man, and a barrage of publicity (the budget of which would probably feed ten villages for a year), the film is a hit before a single shot is taken. A certain standard is expected and that is delivered… if you don’t stop to ask any questions, all izz very well indeed.

The film, based on Chetan Bhagat’s successful novel Five Point Someone, set in a an engineering institute is the story of three friends Ranchhod (Aamir Khan), Farhan (R. Madhavan) and Raju (Sharman Joshi). Ranchhod’s background is mysterious, but Farhan belongs to a middle class family that has made sacrifices for his education, and Raju to a very poor family that has pinned all their hopes on him.

Ranchhod or Rancho, is established right off as an inventive rebel, who bucks the humiliating, pants-down ragging meted out to the others, by literally electrifying the ragger’s pee (a dangerous stunt if any me-too’s out there are planning to try it). He questions the autocratic principal Viru Sahastrabuddhe (Boman Irani), makes fun of the by-rote teaching methods, but gives his friends all love and support. He also falls for the principal’s daughter Pia (Kareena Kapoor).

What Rancho says is that our education system teaches students to chase success, not excellence, that parents impose their ambitions on their children, and that the resulting pressure can kill – three suicides in the film (one failed), and statistics of high suicide rates among students quoted by Rancho. An example of the mugging system is Chatur (Omi Vaidya), who does nothing but slog for the great Indian dream— success in the US.

In theory, all this bashing of the system is fine, but nobody asks why Rancho who is so anti-establishment, submits to a formal education himself; and if he tops the killer exams with his unconventional ideas, surely the ‘system’ couldn’t be all that rotten. There is a twist to his presence in the college and to what he ends up as, which belies his declarations even more, but revealing that would be a spoiler.

The film romanticizes the rebel, but the rebel is necessarily an achiever—whether it is Rancho or Farhan who gets from him the courage to junk engineering and follow his passion for wild life photography. But with its overflowing optimism, the film (like Khan’s Taare Zameen Par) does not even go into asking what happens to those who have no special talents?

3 Idiots has good performances all round—and every actor gets one big dramatic scene in which to take the spotlight away from the always shining Aamir Khan. It has fabulous dialogue, excellent lyrics, decent music and skilled cinematography. It has humour (the speech-altering is truly funny), emotion, romance in the right doses, no quarrels there—even if there are some cringe-making scenes like Farhan faking a heart attack to reverse a flight, or Rancho and gang helping deliver Pia’s sister’s baby on a rainy night with failed power. You are, of course, not supposed to ask why authority figures always must be such caricatures—whether it is Sahastrabuddhe here or the dean in Hirani’s Munnabhai MBBS (also played by Boman Irani). Or why it is okay to make fun of poverty and why Raju’s poor sister is waiting forlornly for marriage at 28 because her brother has to earn the dowry? Or how come it’s okay to cheat on a big scale but not on a small question paper-stealing level?

But because Aamir Khan has taken on the role of such a guru figure (never mind that he endorses unhealthy cola) on and off screen, one can ask: why stop at bashing the ‘system’ (everybody does that), but not even suggest a better, workable alternative. And if the non-conformist is ultimately up for hire to the highest bidder (American or Japanese), what is actually the moral of the story? That there is no place for failure-- honourable or otherwise? Then sir, despite the happy success-chasing-excellence ending, all izz not so well, no?


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