3 Idiots Movie Review

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3 Idiots was recommended to my husband by some Indian and Pakistani coworkers. It was a huge hit in India and is one of the highest grossing Bollywood films ever.

I was a little wary at first because some of the promotional material made it look alarmingly like an Indian Dumb and Dumber, but it’s really not. The story follows two college friends about 10 years after their graduation as they are trying to find a third friend (Ranchoddas Shamaldas Chanchad, aka “Rancho), who has disappeared in the intervening years. The search is interspersed with flashbacks from the exploits of the three friends in engineering school. 3 Idiots is both entertaining story and social commentary about the immense pressure placed on Indian youth by their families and education system, which results in a high rate of suicide. Though Rancho loves engineering passionately, one of his friends really wants to become a wildlife photographer, and the third is under so much pressure from his impoverished family to make something of himself that he nearly flunks out from the stress. The three have an ongoing rivalry with another student who has no talent for engineering but memorizes the textbooks and sucks up to teachers.

3 Idiots is more of a mix of different genres and styles than a typical Hollywood film, which takes a little getting used to. There’s a rather good review on Amazon that covers it better than I could, I think:

Indian film […] is kitchen sink filmmaking, throwing together themes and plots from many diverse genres to create tales of epic scope (this one is nearly three hours long). These sagas whipsaw the viewer back and forth from farcical parody to ghastly tragedy to musical fantasy to weepy melodrama to toilet humor to social protest to romantic comedy. The plots are frequently Byzantine in their complexity and the characters hopelessly unrealistic. As in the Hindu epic Ramayana, they are better thought of as caricatures of love, wisdom, heroism, foolishness, envy, ambition, and other traits.

Though the ride can be dizzying (and the balance between the wacky hijinks of the friends and the serious social commentary embedded in the story results in some nasty cases of mood whiplash at several points), the result is a film that is both funny and moving, and yes, occasionally ridiculous. (The birth scene!!! o_O) The actors seemed like they were having a lot of fun, which always helps with a film like this, and although I was initially kind of side-eyeing the attempt to pass 40-something Aamir Khan (who also starred in my previous foray into Bollywood: Lagaan) off as a college student, I have to admit he’s a really enjoyable actor to watch and he did a great job with the role of Rancho.

Something that struck me watching Khan’s performance was how whole-heartedly he threw himself into the role. It’s possible this is common in Indian film-making (my limited experience with Bollywood films makes it hard to judge) but I have a hard time picturing a Hollywood star of Khan’s caliber allowing himself to appear as ridiculous as Khan does at many points in this film, unless he’s specifically a comedian like Robin Williams or Adam Sandler. Aamir Khan is one of the biggest stars in India, with many “serious” roles under his belt, yet here he is, bugging out his eyes and waggling his tongue like a 4 year old making faces! For example, the supremely silly (and ear-wormy) love song (mild spoilers):

To be honest, I kind of liked it. Some Hollywood stars guard their dignity a little TOO closely and end up just playing the same role over and over because they’re too scared to leave their comfort zone. I prefer a little more versatility.

Based on this film, I’m also guessing that Indian culture doesn’t have nearly as big a taboo against grown men crying as American culture (unfortunately) does – I lost count of how many times Khan and his co-stars teared up with sadness, joy, and everything in between. Again, it was kind of refreshing – men should be able to cry without being branded sissies or wimps.

My rating: (3.5 / 5)