There is something pleasantly deceptive about the way Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots unfolds. Upon first glance the film appears to be nothing more than a Bollywood version of a traditional American teen comedy. Complete with its own Ferris Bueller style rebel, Ranchoddas “Rancho” Shamaldas Chanchad (Aamir Khan), to disrupt the balance of the world by constantly being one step ahead of everyone else. The opening moments alone fulfill the juvenile humour quota by having a frat boy type, in charge of “initiating” freshman, gets his comeuppance when he learns the hard way that urination and electricity do not mix.
It is only when passing through the initial moments of tomfoolery that Hirani’s true motives start to come into focus. 3 Idiots has bigger aspirations than simple slapstick gags, it wants to evoke cultural change and hopefully save lives in the process.
Taking aim at the societal pressures surrounding education in India, and the devastating impact that it is having on a generation of young people, 3 Idiots tells the tale of three friends struggling to live up to the career paths others have chosen for them. Farhan Qureshi (R. Madhavan), Raju Rastogi (Sharman Joshi) and Rancho all go to the prestigious Imperial College of Engineering, though their reasons for attending the institution could not be more different. Told from birth that he would be an engineer, Farhan has put aside his aspirations of being a wildlife photographer. Raju comes from an impoverished family and carries the burden of getting a degree to lift his family’s standings.
Rancho is the only one of the three – it can be argued the only one in the entire school – who seems to be there of his own accord. Embracing his “all is well” mantra, he cares not for the goal of many to obtain a good job and acquire extravagant things. Filled with a genuine passion for learning, Rancho openly opposes the grade centric class system that is stifling most educational institutions. Of course Rancho’s views are in direct contrast with the corporate structure the likes of Professor Viru Sahastrabudhhe (Boman Irani), aptly referred to as “the Virus” by the students, preach on a daily basis.
Here is where Hirani’s film draws its battle lines. 3 Idiots is not so much about the shenanigans that Rancho and his pals get up to while outwitting Sahastrabudhhe, but rather the need to wage war on the ideology that people like the professor represent. The true virus that eats away at the characters in the film, and in sections of modern India as a whole, is the narrow minded views associated with technical based schools. There is so much unhealthy pressure and pride placed on students to do well, partly because degrees from these institutions are accepted worldwide, that parents are unknowingly killing that which they claim to cherish the most…their children.
Early on in the film, Rancho hangs the blame of a fellow student’s suicide around the neck of Sahastrabudhhe. It is revealed later on in the film that this is not the only time the professor has been the brunt of such claims. His own daughter Pia (Kareena Kapoor), whom Rancho ends up falling for, accuses her father of placing too much pressure on her late brother. Similar to numerous students within India who sadly became a suicide statistic, Pia’s brother opted to take his own life rather than be viewed as a failure in his father’s eyes.
While 3 Idiots is not the first Bollywood comedy to tackle deep issues impacting society, the film does so in a way that never overstays its welcome. This is quite a feat considering Hirani’s tendency to stuff the film with several unnecessary subplots. Fortunately, even these moments do not hinder the film’s overall message. Sure it can be argued that 3 Idiots is a bit too blunt at times, but frankly it needs to be given the subject matter. The time for subtly is over.
It is the cry for change that beats within the heart of the film that makes 3 Idiots so intriguing. Using comedy to provide a dose of sobering medicine, the film shows that all is indeed not well with the youth in India. The shift in cultural views will not happen overnight, but with films like 3 Idiots bringing further attention to the problem, and becoming a blockbuster hit in the process, there is hope that positive change will come soon.