who’re the three?

3 idiots is a movie that was released over christmas in an unprecedented 2126 screens across the world, multiplex screens from Cape town to Canberra carpet bombed with raj kumar hirani’s latest offering. The film has grossed over 300 crore rupees (thats about $ 70 million) in 19 days, a record in itself, and is probably on its way to settling comfortably on the summit of the largest grossers’ mountain, glitteringly studded with some other A Khan –  starrers, like “Ghajini”, or older gems like “raja hindustani”: reigning favorites till they were toppled by other, more substantial offerings like “gadar”(dir: anil sharma, whose next movie “veer” is on its way : salman leading a mercenary army in pre-handpump india- so be warned) et al.

the film was preceded by careful branding and market promotions, for this was the latest offering from a director who had provoked countrywide discussions, chatter, and more importantly, emulation from the adoring masses for his last movie, and even, to a lesser degree for his debut film: both candyfloss social commentaries with the same protagonists who stumble with brilliant comic timing through life-as-idyllic-comedy.

As I went to see it, though, my tickets placed me right next to 2 south african-indian kids, who, after watching the opening credits and Aamir’s stellar entrance, rolled to their sides, and promptly went to sleep. hmmm, not part of the adoring masses, i see.

3 idiots was also the latest movie to be graced by the great khan (henceforth known as ‘gk’), whose return to normal size after acquiring rectii, biceps and a hydra-like* deltoid in his last offering “ghajini” has been the subject of excited speculation.

so its with some degree of reserve that one approaches 3 idiots. on the one side, adulation from the masses is almost always suspicious. yet, the team making the movie seems to be adept, and the marketing seems synchronised, right down to the facetious spat over acknowledgements and titles when a legal contract was signed between all parties concerned, (whose contravention should have provoked court action, not petulant tweets and angry press conferences)

and this post is meant as a review, so I shall cut to the chase, and try to concentrate on the movie itself, and chop out the chatter.

3 idiots is a movie about 3 friends, 2 adversaries and 1 sweetheart (supported by one pregnant sister, two differently autocratic families, and a surprise jaaved jaffery appearance). The movie is set in an engineering college in Delhi, the Imperial College of Engineering, a none-too-subtle reference to the IITs in India.

Indeed, none-too-subtle is a theme that runs through the movie, as the theme of “suicide due to academic pressure” is rammed down audience throats with vigour at three separate instances in the movie. I agree that suicides are a part of professional college life in India, particularly at high pressure institutions like the IITs, and we have all lost friends or classmates to the pressures of academia: some burning out, others fading away, and a few taking the plunge towards ending it all (and successful at it).

Yet is that the dominant experience of college life? is it the dominant tragedy of our university-attending students? is the oppressive teaching system, with its over-emphasis on memorisation and academic rigour, choking creativity and innovation in our institutions?

Does 3 idiots adequately address these issues?

Does it do so without resorting to tired cliches, painful melodrama and flaccid jokes to pepper the narrative?

The answer is no. on both counts, which is sort of paradoxical, I recognise.

Right from the name of Aamir’s main adversary (Chatur Raamalingam? Why don’t you just get out the Mehmood tapes and dress up the man in a dhoti, carve out a sikha and smear him in bhasma? Why not just address him as “oye madraasi”, mister hirani?)

The geeky, no-social-skills rival does not really have to be from Madras, or Hyderabad, neither does it really behove well to pick on a person schooled in Kampala and Pondicherry (both with no hindi included in syllabus) and from a non-hindi speaking background for their poor skills in the national language. Chatur’s attempts to speak in hindi are pretty good, and he improves through the movie, achieving a passable grammar and vocabulary at the end, enough to make himself understood to movie goers without subtitles.

Yet the cliche is repeated, as always. To Hirani’s credit, at least the token muslim was not subjected to kid-gloved condescension, neither was the inventor Lobo’s dad a “God tumhe hameshaa khush rakhenge” padre in goa.

That was some relief, certainly. But the tired cliches, and the flaccid jokes, and the forced hilariousness was almost as irritating as the sight of men in their late 30’s and mid 40’s playing boys less than half that age. Admittedly, parts of the movie are funny, like the sanskrit verse at the end of Chatur’s ill-fated speech, like some of the gags with the teachers. But when this is seen in the backdrop of gk’s condescending, sanctimonious elder statesman patronage, the humour is too little compensation. 

Aamir-as-superman is a role that movie goers have come to identify since Ghulam more than 11 years ago. With the possible exception of 1947: Earth, gk has played the squeaky clean and patronising hero in all his movie: saving enslaved childhoods in “taare zameen par”, saving enslaved villages in “lagaan”, defending the nation in “sarfarosh”, defending his faith in “mangal pandey”. Its about time that the long, self obsessed biopics of himself, embellished with a million edited-to-make-aamir-look-good moments are treated with scepticism, and not unabashed admiration.

Don’t get me wrong. I would go for an gk movie far more readily than an SRK , or Salman movie, but I still think that the alaborate paeans to the man’s megalomania are getting a bit too tedious. So while gk fools around “more outside classes than inside”and “attends whichever class he wants to”, other students in the class do the boring humdrum job of sticking to the schedule. Yet gk shines in every class, does projects for other students, delivers babies using vacuum cleaners, and spends the night before the finals ferrying a friend’s invalid father to the hospital before topping the finals with the highest percentage aggregate. Any student worth his/her salt who has gone through engg / med school can tell you that at the highest level, toppers ae created by a combination of genius, obscenely long hours, application, luck and perserverance. A genius who flits airily from lecture to lecture absorbing what he can may be able to do really well in the results list, but topping? Unlikely.

But the most irritating quality of the movie is certainly its unsubtlety. And the patron saint of that is Boman Irani. If I am forced to see another of Irani’s over-the-top performances with fake lisp/beard/pagdee/wig/limp/mole, i think i shall scream. To see him as a cardboard tiger in too-high pants and tight coat, with a poisonous persona defined by peevish petulance and rather uneducated comments about “engineering”, and “machines” was tortuous, to say the least. To watch his teary-eyed capitulation to the bright side was even worse, and it is here that the movie fails to move, or even push or nudge.

All-in-all, if Hirani doesn’t change his style of aseptic cinema stories, unsubtle social messages, happily-ever-after endings, random resuscitations of paralysed patients, all embellished with dialogue that uses puerile jokes that may cause primary school teachers to blush and giggle nervously  in their classes, its going to become increasingly difficult to see his movies.

Evidently, I am in a small minority here, and along with the 2 children snoring peacefully in the seat next to me at the theatre, probably I make up the 3 eponymous heroes of this movie.

Which really answers my question, of course.

* – read: many headed.

17-02-09: (most of) what i know abt gaiman… a.k.a. authors i like to read (part 1):

there are people you love to read.  all the time.   any which way.   the regular stash run thru, you are reduced to digging out old forgotten books published in the early part of their careers and dismissed in their time as frivolous, or as strictly avoidable.

these are the authors whose books wou will end, close, and wish you had not read so that you can read it again, and hope that there will be occassion, at some point in the distant fuure, when you may have  forgotten the plot  enough to read it again.

these are authors whose characters or writings or stories stick with you for a lifetime, whose metaphors twist their way into your everyday moral measures, tipping the scales as you judge and evaluate.

i wish to make a list of such authors.  every one has different lists, and i am sure any list i rattle off the top of my head would be incomplete.  and miss out on some really good people.   yet, here is my first attempt:

of course, before we go on,  there are rules.   as always.   there are rules.

  1. the book should not be an established religious text that has disputed authorship.  you cannot claim to love king james, or mathew, or whoever it is that you wish to attribute you corner of the bible to, but no it doesn’t work.
  2. the writer should have attempted to be prolific.  that could mean anything depending on the resources availble at that point of time, like lao tzu‘s writings, which definitely qualify for a whole body of work. yet one-time authors (like, say, siddharth sanghvi) in a post-printing press-era are not allowed.  so while there is certainly no doubt about considering someone as versatile as shakespeare (let’s just asume for the sake of this post that there was only one man, that it was a bargain that he had made with an extra terrestrial entity, who exacted his part of the bargain, or maybe didn’t 🙂  the works of kalidasa, or homer would certainly to be considered to be in the running,  too.
  3. there has to be a book.  that you can hold.  in your hands.  it can be any format,   novel, essays, short stories, graphic novels, collage narratives, picture books, what have you.  but books.   no blogs, no online columns, no periodicals, no newspapers, no official correspondence (u cannot claim to love the bukke shahato, saying that Tokugawa leyasu is your favourite author)
  4. group authors are ok, so long as they show cognisable evidence of having worked together.   (like lapierre and collins are perfectly ok, above the board, ekdum bindaas chun.)

but why am i saying all this in the second person, addressing it to you?  it is, obviously, dear reader, because you would have perhaps read so far, and have moved on to fantasising about you own list, so this is just a framework that you can use, to narrow ure search…

P G Wodehouse.

will certainly be the author to have influenced me the most, in so many different ways.  he has written books that i wished would never end, books that i thought were so hilarious, i have rolled around and laughed, tears streaming down my face.   contrary to most media representations, it is not the story of bertie and jeeves that interests me, tho i must confess a more than grudging respect for the entire line now, in retrospect.  my favourites were always situated in blanding’s castle, near market shropshire, with the butler Beach who enjoys his glass of port down by the pantry. and the pigman who keeps changing:  cyril wellbeloved was the most popular of them, elciting the approval of lord emsworth, anyway.  and when two variant characters and worlds collide, as in leave it to psmith which has psmith coming to blandings, and going thru that entire routine with baxter and the flowerpots, it adds a whole different level of hilarity.  “psmith leapt across the lawn like a long-legged mustang”.  i also thoroughly enjoyed monty bodkin (heavy weather “uncle woggly to his chicks: “hullo chikkabidies…” “) and other books here and there like meet mr mulliner, brinkley manor, and doctor sally (errmmm… ummmm personal tee hee and furious blushing moment).  spoken simply, or better, in evelyn waugh‘s words, “…wodehouse’s idyllic world will never stale….(he has)  created a world for us to live in and delight in”.   if ever i should use terms like ‘blithe insouciance’ and still have a straight face it should be for describing wodehousian characters.  the man is genius, of course.   his language, his turn of phrase, his sharp wit, self deprecating comments only serve to romanticise the fate of the foppish nobility in the twenties, as these penniless young men waltz in and out of his books, their wits about them, their innocence intact, and their idyllic world never stale.  the women are cuteness, desirability, wit and charm all rolled into one.   the men are goofy and lovable, or suave and sophisticated.   either way, the result is confusion, charm and hilarity.

Goscinny and Uderzo

some of the best humour in graphic literature has come from both these guys, especially thru their immensely successful and hugely popular “asterix” series.   honestly, i think that the great divide (with its lead couple melodrama and histrionix) is one of the smartest, brightest, funniest books ever written.   as for sheer genius, it has to be  asterix and the roman agent featuring the indomitable tortuous convulvulus (they put him in the circus in rome, but the lions eat each other).   for sheer inventiveness, you have to note asterix and cleopatra, aand as for smart and biting european farce and comedy, i suppose asterix and the banquet, asterix and the magic cauldron would get my vote.   also, the great visits to foreign countries for these thrilling adventures : corsica, britain, belgium, scandinavia (great crossing), greece, india, the middle east (asterix and the black gold) and so on.  the ability to keep such hilarious names intact, even after the translation from the french and the ability to retain the humour in exchanges like “join the army, they said…. its a man’s life they said (muttering)” is what really astounds me.   and also the great cameo performances (like ‘dubbelosix’ in asterix and the black gold and the fly who is his carrier fly and is in love with him). clearly, goscinny and uderozo were humorists far ahead of their time, using humour to tell a self-deprecating story that makes light of the more glaring truth : that all of france was run roughshod over by the italians, who plundered and conquered and toyed with the french till the last blue-gummed dying days of their own lead-fuelled demise

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