3 January 2013 | StevePulaski
Scarcely has a comedy provided its audience with so much insight, intelligence, and human affection
"All is well," the three "idiot" heroes of 3 Idiots recite when they become frazzled or nervous, while frantically tapping their hearts. They know that reciting the oversimplifying phrase will not provide their problems with a solution, or even a catalyst, but it gives them the onset courage they desperately need at a time of uncertainty and despair. One character even tries to use the line after an amateurishly-given birth may have gone terribly wrong. It's times like that when the saying may not be so effective, even if its goal is not to provide certain relief.
But all is well, as they so often say. Rajkumar Hirani's 3 Idiots, my introduction to the world of Bollywood cinema, is a comedy-drama unlike any one I've ever seen, long, but never drawn out, frantic, but never desperate, and emotional, but never manipulating. It provides us with three of the most likable characters of the last decade, and with insight to the culture of Indians and their parents. Rarely has a comedy had this big of a brain in its head and a canvas of opportunities in mind, while possessing a title not even fit for a farce.
Our title characters are ambitious but stunted Farhan Qureshi (R. Madhavan), jittery, fearful Raju Rastogi (Sharman Joshi), and borderline prodigy Ranchhoddas "Rancho" Shamaldas Chhanchad (Aamir Khan), three close friends who attend the Imperial College of Engineering (ICE), one of India's most prestigious colleges where only the best are accepted. The young boys already are facing some of life's greatest challenges, all of them pursuing the field of engineering when the only one who seems to have a passion for the material is Rancho. Farhan was forced to become skilled in the field because of his strict father, and Raju is pursuing the field with the goal of getting his family out of poverty, with his father's expensive health bills, his mother's fragile core, and his sister's inability to marry all on the table. Rancho is studying because he feels that one should pursue passion and make a career out of it, so it doesn't feel like work. If you're passionate and devoted to your work, success will find you - yet this is only one of the countless morals and insights 3 Idiots provide its viewer with.
The film chronicles their issues in college in flashback, with instances in the presence popping up to show Farhan and Raju searching for their pal Rancho, who has disappeared and avoided contact for several years now. This is not your typical flashback film, however. It uses this method much to its advantage, and doesn't feel like a narrative within a narrative. It seals both stories nicely, but it takes the viewer on a roller-coaster ride of emotions through carefully constructed events before it even arrives at those endings.
One of their problems in college is the professor/dean of the campus, Viru Sahastrabuddhe (Boman Irani), who the three derogatorily call "Virus" when his back is turned. Virus is strict and often largely unsympathetic to the problems of his students, which allows the film to explore a dark topic one assumes a comedy wouldn't dare cross paths with and that is the issue of Indian teen suicide. One kid had his father have a stroke, rendering him unable to focus on academics for months, falling gravely behind. Virus is grossly unsympathetic to his case, denying him an extension on a project he's work so unrealistically hard on but can not perfect.
If anything, we can say 3 Idiots is a message to the parents of the Indian youth and that is to stop applying pressure to an already stressed out demographic. I've read several articles articulating the point that Indian teenagers are among one of the highest in suicide rates, and that many parents put an unrealistic amount of pressure, duty, and responsibility on the child to the point of a physical and mental collapse. You're given the unalienable freedom to raise your kids with the method you choose, but not every method is perfect, and when your method is one of the ones that leads to suicide, mental health problems, and perpetuates fear and anxiety in the minds of teenagers, then you may want to reevaluate your methods.
3 Idiots also provides us with the idea that many Indian children are told what to become in life early and are discouraged from exploration or even personal ambition. This I can't believe. What an unhappy, uninspiring, completely wasted life to slog through everyday doing something you loathe all because it was the lucky career choice of your parents. Yet I'm sure millions have been lead through this same life. It's the worst way of "living through a person" that I can imagine.
The film runs ten minutes shy of three hours, which for few viewers may seem too long and uncomfortable. I was skeptical myself walking in rather blind. Almost every Bollywood film I've conducted research on seems to run an upwards of three hours, some extending and testing the waters to roughly five hours. If other Bollywood works have characters drawn along the same lines of being relatable, human, and easily accessible and not biased towards race or social class, I can't see it being a struggle to get through any of the industry's films.
Through every quick-witted song and dance number, through every comedic scene, through every instance of dramatic despair, emotionally alive moment, solemnly poignant sequence, suspenseful setup, to a lovely, heartfelt conclusion, 3 Idiots is a wonderful, invaluable endeavor in the world of film. Its actors are beautifully fitting for their roles, assisted by a script so human and true to life that it is honestly hard to believe, and captured through beautifully alive cinematography to collectively give us a beautiful package not just in the figurative sense. This is arguably one of the best comedies I've ever seen.