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3 Idiots (2009)

CRUMBLIES… 4 crumblies

There’s a thing about getting older: we grind to a halt, encrusted with old beliefs and resistance to change. We become cruel – I see that all the time in these corridors: ageing tossers pushing by, barging through, screaming their revenges as they go. Especially on Cupcake Tuesday. Or when the denture specialist turns up. All awful for us, but what of the young and the rest of the world? We seek to pressure them, control them, or drive them to impress or avoid us by making mistakes that will last forever. Such is the story of 3 Idiots, all boys, driven to comic extremes and sometime suicide attempts, to meet the expectations of their fathers or educational substitute fathers…

Vibrant Vinay recommended 3 Idiots as a comedy. And it is brings three hours of brightly lit laughter – and a critical undertone that challenges Indian education and old men from everywhere. Told in flashback as a search for Aamir Khan‘s gloriously chirpy Rancho, it is all about those college days we should remember with joy…

Oh – and it is great fun. A bit loose in places, and with a couple of thuddingly unlikely moments that call on characters to be stupid, but fun and funny. The searchers are Farhan (R. Madhavan doing stymied-dreamer) who forces a plane to land through feigning a heart attack then running off, Raju (Sharman Joshi doing emotionally vulnerable pauper), and Chatur – the weasily, suck-uppy one (Omi Vaidya doing unrelenting-self-promotion). They flash back to college and the story really begins as they arrive at college, become instant victims of parental expectations (Farhan chasing engineering over his dreams to be a wildlife photographer), parental need (Raju must get ahead to help his family – a comedy-paralysed Dad and desperate Mum – out of poverty), and professorial tosserness.

Oh yes. Cue the Senior Gentlemen caricatures; everyone a lecturer…

Now, look. A film needs a bad guy. 3 Idiots needs one, certainly once the twats in the male dorm have been put in their place the night Khan arrives (piss and sparks, that’s all I’m saying). Professor Viru “Virus” Sahastrabuddhe is the man. Boman Irani does a threateningly good job in Clint-Eastwoodly-high-trousers, greying perm and full-on David-Walliams-with-lisp grouch. He is sour, smug, belittling and bullying of the students. An early – really, largely comic – sequence has him take apart a student’s life. Our heroes are helping finish a dream project a boy abandoned – to build a camera-drone – only to have said drone find him swinging from a ceiling fan. Such is the pressure on Indian students, says the film’s subtext. Awful, therefore, can be the consequences of professorial bullying. Which sits oddly with the comedy caricature on-screen.

Anyway – to the fun. Khan turns up in light, twitchily comic mode. Borderline savant, he chants “All is Well” (or “Aaaal izzzz wellll”, he insists) as a shareable mantra, breaking students out of their mindless adherence to Virus and the rules. He pays a price for it, gets taken to the edge of expulsion, whilst binding his friends together in good times and – for Raju in particular – very bad indeed. Lovely work.

There’s also a formulaic, but rather sweet love story kicked off by the 3 Idiots invading a wedding. Rancho gets a-flirting with Pia played by Kareena Kapoor who underlines the duality of modernity and tradition in a character set to become a doctor. This side of the story feels a tad perfunctory, but is nicely off-kilter and makes for an emotionally fun ending. And Pia is Virus’s daughter. Oh yes.

My age and the old-man carciatures distanced me from some of the joys of 3 Idiots, but it is a pointed, deftly made film which earns its international success through laughs, flashes of striking drama (we have people jumping to their attempted deaths, a birth in a power cut, engineering-as-creativity and kindness to kids), and a subtext that shows up the likes of The Hangover as funny, but pointless, and the lesser for it.

Khan, as you’d expect, centres the whole piece alongside a telling and surprising journey himself. Madhavan shows vulnerability in a lesson to father-son relationships everywhere. Joshi…aaahhh…Mad Maud popped in half way and declared her intention to adopt him. Even Vaidya and Irani bring out a touch of affection in old Jack, here. They learn their lessons the hard way…

3 Idiots is a smart, quality comedy with sharp teeth. It is a message from young people to the old; but a gentle one. It’s been ten years… I wonder whether they heard…

Spielberg loves it, apparently. So should you.

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