Most engineering college hostels in India are testosterone-charged geekdoms. A friend, a chemical engineer who now sells telephone cards in the US told me this morning that five instant recalls from his days at the Delhi IIT are “rum, porn, ragging, Hindi swear words and multi-culturalism”. Some of that is abundantly present in 3 Idiots, the new film directed by Rajkumar Hirani, most of which is set in an engineering college in Delhi.
But a lot of the real vignettes of hostel life are sorely missing. This hostel does not have much diversity—we don’t see a slice of India that most hostels of reputed colleges contain. Every stressed engineering student is in awe of one man, Rancho (Aamir Khan), or trying to quit by killing themselves.
The germ of this campus film is Chetan Bhagat’s best-selling book Five Point Someone, but Hirani and his co-writer has altered many situations and added twists in the plot to make it suitable for cinema.
It is an anticipated film, with Aamir Khan and two other very good actors, R. Madhavan and Sharman Joshi, as well as Kareena Kapoor in the lead roles. Khan’s promotional tour across India, in disguise, grabbed headlines. My own anticipation revolved around the director, for a film is ultimately his vision—with or without stars. Hirani has written and directed the Munnabhai films, two of the most seminal films of this decade.
In 3 Idiots, Hirani is not at his best. The story of three friends who meet in college does not smack of the quintessential Hirani touch—simple, but layered; funny, but poignant; and original, but universal. The Munnabhai films were not only “feel good”, which tend to typify most commercially successful Hindi films, they weaved in the larger messages of the script into the story seamlessly. They were ambitious scripts that demanded risks. 3 Idiots is loud, overwritten and melodramatic.
There are some genuinely funny scenes and moments. The audience at the press screening, which also consisted of people who were not from the media, were in splits throughout (some even applauded). Hirani has indeed captured some moments with the right emotional punch. The ragging sequences, some moments between Rancho and his girlfriend Pia (Kareena Kapoor, vibrant and glamorous in spectacles), drunken conversations of the three friends on the hostel terrace, pranks on the resident nerd (predictably a Tamil)—some of them look effortless and spontaneous, but any discerning film lover would know that the director has worked very closely with actors before filming.
The message of the film, which is that our education system is antithetical to free thought and knowledge, is an easy one to relate to. At some point in our school and college days, all of us have felt boxed in; wished the pernicious physics professor was a little more human. But the script, written by Hirani and Abhijat Joshi, hammers it in. The vehicle is Rancho, who is a philosopher, self-help guru, science genius, man of the world, loyal friend and do-gooder all rolled into one. In other words, an impossible human.
Right from the moment Khan appears on screen, he is doing something or saying something that evoke either awe or jealousy. Free spirited geniuses can have their tragic flaws too, which can make them even more interesting than they are. On the other side of the argument is the college, or the establishment, which is symbolized by Professor Viru Sahastrabudhhe, or Virus (Boman Irani)—a quirky man with a lisp, who is brazenly undemocratic and Naziesque. Hirani’s demarcation of these two worlds is too simplistic to be true.
Khan, who is known to be passionately involved with every film he takes up, lends Rancho a studied cool and all-knowing air which gets annoying towards the end. He even delivers a baby on a snooker table and walks away after that, with tears in his eyes. Although Khan emerges as the star of the film, Madhavan and Joshi have performed their roles with conviction. Madhavan is a fine actor in the hands of a good director and Hirani has extracted the best out of him. Kapoor, who plays the effervescent heroine, does not have much of a role, but she is powerful in some scenes.
3 Idiots is worth a watch because of some scenes—and for the friendship that begins abruptly, but keeps growing through the film until a surprise at the end. Like his earlier films, this is an entertainer too. If only it had less histrionics and a little more real life, this would have been yet another Hirani classic.
3 Idiots releases in theatres on Friday.