father is old and ill; sister unmarried; mother in poor shape. A professional degree, preferably engineering, is the only route for Raju to rise above this. On his young shoulders rest his family’s dreams. It’s not a happy situation.
While portraying this in the film, however, the filmmakers turn the screen into black and white. A melancholic tune on the shehnai plays in the background. The family’s state is neatly ascribed to ’50s realist, darker cinema. The comedy around this grimness is complete. You empathise for sure. Still, you laugh along.
Opinions are like blogs. Everybody has them. What Hirani also has is a peculiar sense of humour. This makes connection with an audience easy.
Self-seriousness in the times of Rakhee Sawant won’t fetch you even an art-house seat. Hirani and his co-writer Abhijat Joshi realise this.
They make significant points through the picture. Yet, they retain the lightness of being another ‘Munnabhai’ film throughout. Even if it means digging into Internet or memory, a joke, that cheers up the purpose better. I won’t give out the jokes; you’d rather watch them on screen first.
Young Raju may be overburdened by his family’s expectations. He has but two friends in his engineering school for a support system. One of them, Rannchhod Chachar, or Rancho (Aamir Khan, 44 plays 22, but all’s well), is a natural tech-whiz, and a guiding light of sorts -- not just for his friends, but also for the film itself. The other, Farhan (Madhavan), could’ve been a wildlife photographer. An admission into Imperial College of Engineering, or IIT, to be more precise, is for him, like countless others in this country, a ticket to neighbour’s envy, and parent’s pride.
He must endure unhappiness for the sake of both.
As Rancho suggests, he’ll have to spend an entire life somehow liking what he does, over doing what he likes. Engineering and medicine have been, for years, potential suicide notes for those growing up in this country. These may be less now the concern of metropolitan youth. But little has changed elsewhere, as in this film.
The campus here could be any Indian college. Usually a dreaded professor, referred to by his initials or acronym, walks around to dry you out of any interest in learning. I had someone called KRC. These boys have Virus (Boman Irani, with Atal Behari Vajpayee’s lisp, and Vito Corleone’s pout).
Rancho evaluates through him a cruel, classist examination system that passes off as an education system. Not surprising, this rote-learning, even from India’s best institutions, produces more a bureaucracy to serve the corporate and banking sector, than any original thinkers.
Rancho is the sort of genius this classroom cannot fathom. He plays the fool, but still tops. His friends remain flunkeys. As we all realise later in this film (and in our lives): everyone turns out fine eventually. The skits around the buddies deliver comedy with an urgent message. At some point, Rancho disappears.
The friends, including the love-interest (Kareena Kapoor), set out to figure who Rancho really was. This is the part where this doesn’t remain a ‘campus flick’ it started out as: with its own rituals of ragging and the cult ‘sutta’ song (one that’s still called for in our cinema).
The director admits, 3 Idiots is at best 5 per cent of Chetan Bhagat’s pulp-read 5 Point Someone. Thankfully. This is a film that never undermines ‘Bollywood’ for its authenticity: it has its alternating emotional highs and lows, a catch-point (‘aal ij well’ for ‘jaadu ki jhappi’), an invincible hero, and perfect knowledge of when to break into chiffon, song, or the interval. That smart art-form with its own suspensions of disbelief is getting scarcer by generational loss.
Before 3 Idiots on screen, you still don’t feel like the fourth idiot in the theatre. That’s a non-Bollywood relief. This is the sort of movie you’ll take home with a smile and a song on your lips, unless the hype has entirely messed up with your expectations.