3 Idiots

3 Idiots Trailer (in Hindi, not English)In many ways, 3 Idiots is a story we’ve all heard before with a message ingrained into our subconscious by years of storybooks, after-school specials, and hopefully, good parents.  It is the story of one man (cue ominous trailer music) who dares to rebel, go against the grain, buck the trend, stand up to the man…you get the point. It is also a story about the importance of friendship, pursuing one’s dreams, and the power of true love.

Sound interesting? I didn’t think so.  We’ve all heard this tale before.  Right?

Wrong.  While the themes of 3 Idiots tread familiar ground, the presentation here is unlike anything I have seen before. Set at a prestigious engineering school in India, the film focuses on a brilliant student named Rancho Chanchad (Aamir Khan) who is endlessly curious about the world around him and attends classes simply because he loves studying and learning.  But this is India, not America, and in at the Imperial College of Engineering grades are everything. Good grades bring job opportunities, which bring wealth, success, and the chance to lift one’s family out of poverty.  In terms of sheer academic competitiveness, students The competition at ICE makes American law schools look like kindergarten playgrounds. And yet, Rancho will have none of it. He finds joy in the simple things around him, while questioning his professors and pulling pranks on the older students. In the meantime, he becomes good friends with Farhan Qureshi (R. Madhavan) and Raju Rastogi (Sharman Joshi), his roomates who have a much more practical view of society. Thrown into the mix is Pia (Kareena Kapoor), a brilliant medical student who catches Rancho’s eye and also happens to be the daughter of the school dean Viru Sahastrabudhhe (Boman Irani). As you can imagine, Virus (as the students call him) is not very pleased with Rancho’s rather unorthodox attitude.

Three Idiots

Yes this is a Bollywood movie. And yes there are musical numbers. Oh yeah.

Like I said, this isn’t exactly groundbreaking storytelling here.  I’ll give you three guesses as to how things turn out…and the first two don’t count.

It’s also cleverly told in flashback form, as the movie opens on Farhan, Raju, and another schoolmate Chatur (Omi Vaidya) who are reunited ten years after graduating from school.  Farhan and Raju have been unable to locate Rancho, who seems to have disappeared in the last five years, and together the three of them set out to find him while for Chatur is bent on proving, with photos of his mansion and Lamborghini, that he has found greater success in life than Rancho by adhering to the cultural norms of cutthroat competition.

It’s refreshing to see a film that is so brazenly positive and optimistic  without the cynical edge and sociopolitical agenda of so many movies that come out these days.  Certainly 3 Idiots does not shy away from the less glamorous aspects of cutthroat schools like ICE, and early on one student decides to take his own life after the dean refuses to grant him a short extension on a project deadline which would have allowed him to graduate.  And much of what is presented here is caricature: professors aren’t really that strict, and cruising through life on good vibes alone isn’t exactly a recipe for success. But the brilliance of 3 Idiots lies in the whip-smart pacing and impeccable acting–most notably from Khan, who so thoroughly embodies the freewheeling spirit of his character.  He is utterly lost in Rancho’s persona, and displays a charming wide-eyed wonder and joie de vivre I haven’t seen in a movie since Lucy first entered Narnia. The friendship between the three buddies is real and believable, and Irani’s portrayal of the dean is so thoroughly convincing he could stand toe-to-toe with some of the sleaziest villains in movie history.

I’m no connoisseur of foreign films, though I do enjoy anime (but only when it’s subtitled–English voice actors never do justice to the source material) and I have a copy of Amélie sitting around on VHS somewhere.  And as such, 3 Idiots is, as near as I can tell, the first full-length Bollywood movie I have ever seen.  But like all good stories, its message is universal and, in this case, extraordinary well told. As Rancho would say, all is well.


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