“Just imagine if Lata Mangeshkar’s father had told her she can’t sing or Sachin Tendulkar was forbidden from playing cricket. Where would they be?” Aamir Khan‘s elementary wisdom runs across this extraordinarily thoughtful treatise on our breached education system, with the dulcet directness of a Lata melody, and the irreproachable triumph of Tendulkar’s sixer.
Indeed, by now, Aamir has hit so many sixers in his career we can only wonder what this maestro of marketing intends to do next. For sure, 3 Idiots is yet another vehicle to showcase Aamir’s sparkling ability to be part of a cinema that creates a colloquial yet classy language of deeply-thought provoking punctuations syntaxes and exclamations.
3 Idiots is first and foremost a tremendously entertaining piece of cinema. The ‘boys-will-have-fun’ atmosphere on an engineering campus, is shot with the devious humour and warmth of a joke that has not lost its punch even after years of re-telling.
Some things never change in a straitjacketed society like ours. And really, when Hirani with enormous help from his co-writer Abhijat Joshi, sets down to criticize the glaring anomalies in our education system, we are compelled to wonder for a few seconds-and just for that bit of cynical time-freeze-if flogging the sacred cows of our institutionalized system of governance in cinema, is not just an excuse to pull out all stops and let the young heroes have all the fun that their more disciplined counterparts in schedule-driven colleges deny themselves.
The British rock bank Pink Floyd said it first. “We don’t need no education; we don’t need no thought control/no dark sarcasm in the classroom/teacher, leave those kids alone.”
So if Raj Kumar Hirani wants those ‘kids’ to be left alone, where does our education system go? Into a free-wheeling zone of self-chosen vocation for every child? But then, not every child is a Mangeshkar, Tendulkar, Khan or even Farhan Qureshi (Madhavan) from this film, who craves to be a photographer but ends up living his father’s dream at an engineering institution.
The thought processes underlining the film’s super-vibrant but calm surface are never allowed to seep out and bubble to the exterior of the narrative. If at heart, 3 Idiots is a serious indictment of our education system, at the surface it’s a character-driven film played out at an observant and opulent but always-feisty octave. The sounds of protest against the curbs checks and downers in our education reach out to us in a cascade of crisply- written lines spoken by characters who have lived out the nightmare that precedes that long journey into the realization of our dreams.
At times, the narrative is savagely funny. Note the sequence where Rancho and his girl take the critically ill old man to the hospital on a scooter. Hirani has always seen humour of mortality. He has a potent style of storytelling, a mix of street wisdom and cinematic sensitivities that come together in a noiseless tango of social comment and entertainment. The director is strangely shy of displaying emotions. So, he counters the melodrama of his third hero Raju Rastogi (Sharman Joshi)’s life with a black-and-white 1960s’ self-mocking background music. Ironically, Hirani’s unconventional hero Rancho (Aamir Khan) often goes the other way and sheds manly tears for colleagues’ friends and tormented young citizens of modern India who are crippled by a despotic disregard for their natural creativity.
Aamir Khan undertakes his character’s journey through the paradoxical labyrinth of ambition-driven education system (incidentally, the loopholes in our education was also the theme of Aamir’s Taare Zameen par and Hirani’s Munnabhai MBBS) with a gut-level understanding of what pains today’s average 20-something.
Aamir’s transformation into a 22-year old collegian is so complete and so non-impersonified that you end up wondering if he has been lying about being 40-plus in real life! Like most Aamir starrers, 3 Idiots, too is predominantly his vehicle. Most of the funniest lines and inspiring situations in the script come from Aamir. And boy, does he play the boy-man with restrained relish!
Sharman Joshi as the poor middleclass boy driven to near-suicide by his parents’ ambitions gets two meaty sequences. He chews on them with careful sensitivity leaving a lasting impression. Madhavan as the third ‘idiot’ expresses his smothered dreams through a series of half-expressed thoughts and a fear of unhappiness that reach his eyes without transit.
Kareena Kapoor as the girl engaged to the tycoon with a penchant for putting a price tag on all his gifts, brings a dollop of sunshine and feminine grace to an otherwise masculine tale. She is so spunky and spontaneous you wish there was room for more of her. There’s even less of Mona Singh who’s again a spirited free soul.
The two ladies are fortunately part of the climax where our three heroes deliver Kareena’s sister (Mona Singh)’s baby on the office table â€¦ A clear indication that even an all-boys tale has no qualms about embracing maternal responsibilities if the situation arises.
But did 3 Idiots really need a manufactured child-delivered-in-crisis climax? Did it need those endless toilet-and-bum jokes? Couldn’t Boman Irani (doing a variation on his Dean’s part from Hirani’s Munnabhai MBBS) and the new actor Omi Vaidya (who plays the stuffy Silencer) have been delineated less hammily?
It’s not that 3 Idiots is a flawless work of art. But it is a vital, inspiring and life-revising work of contemporary art with some heart imbued into every part. In a country where students are driven to suicide by their impossible curriculum, 3 Idiots provides hope. Maybe cinema can’t save lives. But cinema, sure as hell, can make you feel life is worth living. 3 Idiots does just that, and much more. The director takes the definition of entertainment into directions of social comment without assuming that he knows best. Here’s V Shantaram happily and effortlessly jogging into Manmohan Desai’s territory.