3 Idiots is a Bollywood film directed and written by Rajkumar Hirani in 2009. This nearly three-hour film stars R. Madhavan, as Farhan, and Sharman Joshi, as Raju, as they search for their college friend Rancho played by Aamir Khan.
As their journey extends miles upon miles through India, Farhan relives their days in college looking for clues to discover what happened to their friend in the years between. The film is wonderful. It is cinematic, entertaining, relatable, and heart-warming; everything you could hope a film to be is packed into this three-hour epic. Among the many quality aspects of technical filmmaking seen in this film, the distinct and unique choices made within this film take it beyond entertaining and intriguing to a narrative of social issues and institutional problems.
- In Bollywood: A Guidebook to Popular Hindi Cinema, anthropologist and film scholar Tejaswini Ganti provides a guide to the cultural, social and political significance of Hindi cinema, outlining the history and structure of the Bombay film industry, and the development of popular Hindi filmmaking since the 1930s. Providing information and commentary on the key players in Bollywood
First and foremost, the self-aware nature of this film create great references not only to other films, but also allow a delightful poking at the Bollywood genre as a whole. The film starts with a man, Farhan, on a plane who gets a phone call. Farhan then attempts to ground the plane in order to get off of it. There is a moment where the music spikes and the film takes on a Final Destination feel as Farhan wants to get off.
It is a moment that is less reference and more of a tribute to the drama of starting a film where a character wants to get off of a plane. This beginning may even be dismissible if there weren’t so many other film references ladled throughout. For example, once the two friends accompanied by one of their old school mates begin their journey to find Rancho, the camera tracks over a lush green hillside. Once it crests the hill it lands on a mountainous road and begins follow their red car through the hills as Farhan begins to narrate a look back at their college lives. This shot has a similar feel to intro shot of the film The Shinning. By starting with a helicopter shot flying over a placid lake before it comes upon a car driving through the mountains a parallel can be drawn between the two very different films.
The possibility of these shots being coincidental may be possible if they were the sole movie references in the film, but there are plenty of these older film references that make their uses too uncanny. One of the most playful film choices is out right stated to replicate a 1950’s film. To overemphasis the struggle and drama of one of the friend’s, Raju, family home Farhan describes it like a 1950’s black and white film. Anytime the film goes back to Raju’s family home the screen goes to black and white and the shots become melodramatic close ups.
The film also makes refence to the fact that when people fall in love it is never as portrayed in the movies. Then there is an entire musical number where two characters fall in love as they trapes through these sweeping movie sets. It’s very clear that Rajkumar Hirani is a movie buff who was creating a movie that even though the film was not about the movie industry the context would reference back it at any chance.
Beyond even the light and playful choices in the film, there is a deep and somber undertone that addresses some very big topics. The sub-story-flashback of the friends in college has the sole purpose of addressing the techniques of teaching seen in the culture; a technique seen in many cultures all over the world.
While the college the friends attend is the top engineering college in India, Rancho shows time and time again that the college focuses too much on turning out robots who can only do what they are told as opposed to turning out inventers who can create a better world. Scene after scene Rancho shows up his teachers and their methods of blind memorization, information cramming, and the stress they apply to students.
One of the most stirring scenes occurred when an older student, Joy, is told that he will be unable to graduate, because his methods have not followed the school’s guidelines and therefore he will be unable to finish his final project. Instead of receiving help from the head of the college to finish the project, the student was told his project is impossible and he will never graduate and it’s his own fault. Feeling lost, hopeless, and depressed, Joy throws his invention away. Rancho picks it up vowing to show Joy that his invention was possible. A short montage ensues where Rancho and his friends work on the invention, a drone helicopter, and eventually finish it.
As the group of students show Joy the accomplishment, they fly the finished, camera-wielding drone up to his window only to find that Joy had hung himself. The only note left was a curt ‘I quit’ on the wall. It is sobering, especially after the victory and excitement of completing the invention, but it gets the point across; the college system killed the ‘Joy’ of engineering for this student and many others.
Rancho makes it a point to tell the head of the college that his refusal to help Joy was as if the teacher had murdered Joy. As Rancho talks to the head of the college he states that the pressure applied to students to succeed and do things that make them unhappy is the leading cause of suicide in India. Rancho also quotes that India, at the time, held the number one spot in the world for suicides. The film acts as a mini PSA for the nation. It may seem like a weird format to project this idea, but the spread and reach of Bollywood films is massive and has the possibility to reach hundreds of millions of people; especially since India has the second largest of the world’s populations.
The film uses its platform and reach to tell viewers what is important in life. Through clever set-up and pay-off the film spouts the need to follow your passion and do what you love, because that is the only way to be happy. It provides healthy examples of living and alternatives to suicide. Under all of the film’s happy and boisterous song and dance a message exists that is powerful and important.
3 Idiots uses its reflexive references and playful moments to promote a healthier mental state for their nation. It’s a fun movie with a real purpose, and that is why the film is so exciting and easy to watch. For every moment that is overdrawn or unrealistic there is a moment that is heartbreakingly real and still topical to many, because the goals and drama of the film are not exclusionary to India or even the Eastern Hemisphere. 3 Idiots is a film that can be enjoyed by all, because it has the ability to touch some part of every viewer’s life.