Film review by: Witney Seibold
I have said this before, but: I love the ethos behind Bollywood filmmaking. If you have a poor populace living in a hot area of the world, you’d better given them their money’s worth, and enough time indoors to beat the heat. Most every Bollywood film I’ve seen has been over 3 hours long, has featured grandly dramatic climaxes of thuddingly obvious melodrama, and at least three song and dance numbers. Bollywood filmmakers are going to make damn sure you feel livened and joyous and sated by the time you leave, even if they have to sing and dance for hours to do it.
Rajkumar Hirani’s “3 Idiots” is the first legit Bollywood musical comedy I’ve seen, and boy is it a whopper. It’s ostensibly a predictable teacher/student drama along the lines of insufferable Hollywood fare like “Mona Lisa Smile” or “Dead Poets Society,” but ratcheted up to that delirious level of contrivance and brilliance that marks the best of India’s worldwide output.
Superstar Aamir Khan (from “Lagaan”) plays Rancho, the naturally brilliant wünderkind at India’s most prestigious engineering academy. Never mind that Khan is in his 40s; he still looks youthful. Rancho is such a charismatic upstart that he immediately leaves his mark on the school. He quickly makes two friends (Sharman Joshi and Rahul Kumar), who happen to be the worst students in their class, ad proceeds to challenge the educational system, insisting that passion for learning is more important that facts, even though facts will land you a nice job and guarantee financial success. I know it’s reductive, but that’s Bollywood for you. Rancho even makes a few enemies, most notably of the lisping monster of the dean Virus (Boman Irani), the man he is directly challenging. Perhaps Virus should be challenged, as many of his students feel so pressured to succeed that they regularly commit suicide.
The film bounces back and forth in time from the school days to the future where one of Rancho’s old rivals is trying to track him down with the help of his two old buddies in order to prove what true success is. Along the way there’s a wedding mixup (involving the lover interest Pia Kapoor), stolen test answers, the usual bubbling resentments seen in school dramas, a case of mistaken identity, and, most amusingly, a frantic home birth scene in which engineering students jury-rig a suction extractor with a plunger and a vacuum cleaner.
And, of course, there’s a big plot twist that I would not dream of revealing.
Even though it ground on for a good three hours, I was unflappably entertained by “3 Idiots.” It’s not going to have anything deep or even edgy to say, but it takes the familiar tropes of Hollywood pabulum – tropes that your sense of cynicism and bored familiarity has long since begun to dismiss – and pushes them to such extremes, that you can’t help but feel the good intentions all over again. You’ll be exhausted by the end; I only recommend this film to people with the stamina to run as full emotional speed for three hours, but for hose of you who can do it, you’ll be rewarded.