I don’t know a lot of Indian films. I’ve seen some in parts but never in their entirety. I don’t know too many titles, I know even less artists and then there’s the language and culture barrier. In fact, until last night, the only Indian-themed film I remember seeing was Slumdog Millionaire which is not even a Bollywood film but a British production.
Then, my daughter, Sam, said I should see 3 Idiots. I had this mental image of the three blind men and the elephant. In true stereotype fashion, I presumed that everyone in the film would be wearing traditional Indian garb, the scenes would show a densely populated city and slums, and the story would revolve around cultural issues that we who have been westernized are so quick to pass judgment upon and condemn.
How happy I was to be proved wrong. The theme of 3 Idiots is universal; the film genre defies Western definitions and categorizations. To put it bluntly, 3 Idiots rocked my world and made me reassess what, for me, a good film is all about. It is modern and traditional, it is funny and sentimental, it is a love story, it is a musical and it is a social commentary. The visuals are magnificent. I’ve seen a lot of films shot in India but never until 3 Idiots have I gotten a glimpse of how beautiful India is. No Taj Mahal, no temples, no congested streets and markets teeming with spice stalls. Instead, wide expanse of greenery, pristine desert sand, endless mountain roads and a very modern Imperial College of Engineering.
What is 3 Idiots about? It is a biting commentary told in a light-hearted way on an education system that prioritizes grades over learning. It is the story of three engineering students who had different reasons for being in school. There’s Farhan who wanted to be a wildlife photographer but went to engineering college instead because, from birth, his father had decided that an engineer was what he would be. There’s Raju who had the passion for engineering as profession but who kept getting low grades because of pressure from his family that expected him to succeed to become the breadwinner.
And then there’s Rancho, the irreverent but charming genius and provocateur who defied the rules, challenged the system, humbled his teachers, never afraid of the usual punishments for academic transgressions. When Rancho delivered a line about turning one’s passion into one’s profession, I remarked to Speedy that I could have written the script myself.
The film is almost three hours long but I hardly felt the minutes as they passed. The pace was tight, the dialogues were witty and memorable (well, at least, from the English subtitles), the characters and the plot were engrossing. A beautiful film that once again proves that a multi-million budget and a panoply of computer-generated visuals are not always necessary to deliver fantastic results. If, like me, you know very little about Indian films and Bollywood, 3 Idiots is a good introduction. Watch it with an open mind and heart, and fall in love with Indian cinema.