All izz well. As my heart was incessantly thudding, waiting to open the page where Cornell University would determine my fate forever, I whispered to the poor overworked pump, “All izz well.” A simple lie that calms, and renews our sense of purpose. A simple lie that tells us everything is okay, when maybe it isn’t. A simple lie that eventually morphs into a brand new weltanschaauug, and changes the way we see the uncertainty clouding our futures. A simple lie that shows how to stand up to a reality that’s constantly conspiring to shove us over. This lie is “All izz well”.
It’s interesting for me to review 3 Idiots, since I rarely watch Indian movies. I’ve stayed away simply because they tend to be escapist spectacles with all the glitz and glamor of a 60s Broadway musical rather than a sober rumination of a particular issue. Thankfully though, more movies from the subcontinent are taking the role of social commentary seriously (PK and Oh My God come to mind).
Our tale begins with a story of two pals trying to find their long-lost college friend Ranchoddas “Rancho” Chanchand (Aamir Khan), who mysteriously disappeared after graduation. Farhan Qureshi (Ramalingam Madhavan) gets a call from an oily businessman and former classmate Chatur Ramalingam (Om Vaidya), who claims to know where Rancho is. Farhan rounds up Raju Rastogi (Sharman Joshi), and the three set out to the small mountain town of Shimla.
Flashing back, our story follows the three “idiots” —Rancho, Farhan, and Raju, who all share the same dorm in college. Raju and Farhan are what I’d say represent your typical engineering students in India. Far from being passionate about engineering, they’re there simply because their parents told them to be. In India, as in many other Asian countries, filial piety is absolute. It’s a young man’s duty to provide for his family. With the recent IT wave that’s swept India, many middle class families see engineering (or medicine) as the only viable career paths. My dad would jokingly tell me whenever he visits India, people would ask him without prompt, “what language does your son program on?”
Our main “idiot” is Rancho, and unlike the rest of his roommates (and I’m assuming the entire college as well), he’s absolutely enthralled with machines. He’s your Wozniak — someone who dreams in resistors and capacitors, and he joined engineering school because he actually likes it. Rancho represents director Hirani’s ideal engineering student — brilliant, creative, and madly in love.
The dean of the engineering college Viru Sahastrabuddhe (Boman Irani) aptly nicknamed “Virus” is perhaps the embodiment of a Weberian bureaucracy — and is for the sake here, Rancho’s ideological enemy. Virus demands order and perfection, but he has a very specific understanding of perfection — memorizing the goddamn book. There’s a scene where Virus tells the parents of a student that their son can’t graduate because he’s “wasting time on some useless helicopter thing.”
The story follows Rancho’s relationship with Farhan and Raju — who’ve both been imprisoned by society’s un-budging insistence that engineering or medicine is the only acceptable career choice. Rancho’s influence is liberating, and through the course of their interactions with Rancho, they ultimately find the courage to veer off the mandated path, much to the disappointment of Virus.
Stylistically, 3 Idiots did feel a touch exaggerated — but others may simply call it “Bollywood style”. Rancho’s antics seemed slightly off for some reason. And though brilliant and well intended, he seemed too innocent for comfort. For example, he was genuinely surprised Farhan and Raju didn’t join engineering school because they wanted to — if you’ve lived any bit in India, you’d immediately know that’s absurd. Again, this is a Bollywood movie so you’ll have your musical numbers that veer off into separate dance sequences. The one song I most enjoyed was “All Is Well” — which emerged out of Rancho’s attempt to convince Farhan and Raju to grow a pair and face reality with more gusto.
Again though, 3 Idiots is a welcome addition to Bollywood’s storied exports. It sports a culturally resonant message of following one’s passions with all the college jinks, screwball romance, and heart-tugging tragedy you’d ever want. It’s also very easy to see why this movie swept audiences in India and China, given their obsession with rote-driven standardized exams (e.x. the IIT-JEE or Gao Kao). I find the message resonant with me as well — it takes incredible courage to follow your heart, and I hope 3 Idiots, even if only temporarily, will convince you to consider the path less traveled.
3 Idiots (Hindi: ३ इडियट्स)–India. Directed by Rajkumar Hirani. First released December 2009. Running time 2hr 51min. Starring Aamir Khan, Om Vaidya, Sharman Joshi, Boman Irani, Ramalingam Madhavan, and Kareena Kapoor.