Last Saturday my wife and I sat down to dinner and after recently talking with several Indian friends decided to watch the Bollywood film, “Three Idiots.” It ended up being one of those experiences where you go in with no expectations and walk out blown away. WOW! is the simplest way to express my opinion of the film. Many of us still hold a stereotypical notion of Indian films featuring high-pitched women in a sari singing and dancing along with a male partner dressed in a kourta while a chorus of similarly-clad people in the background joins in, sometimes taking place in a setting completely unrelated to the film’s storyline. “Three Idiots” defies the conventional stereotypes of Indian cinema and one gets the strong impression Bollywood is quickly catching up with Hollywood and European filmmaking by focusing not just on quantity, but quality too (I’m not picking on the Indian film industry, but it does have its flaws and drawbacks like any other).
In case you haven’t already guessed from the posted picture, “Three Idiots” is a 2009 comedy featuring Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan and tells the story of 3 young men who are admitted to a 4-year engineering school in India run by the sinister Professor Viru Shahastrabudhi , aptly nicknamed Virus by his students. At heart, the theme is about finding a life that makes you happy and that idea is intricately woven into the plot in many ways with endless moments of laughter juxtaposed against serious incidents of tragedy and redemption. The film serves partially as a criticism against the Indian educational system and the competition for receiving the highest grades and exam scores at the potential cost of one’s happiness and life.
Aamir Khan is superb as Rancchoddas Shamaldas Chanchad a.k.a “Rancho" and from the beginning is as rebel-rousing as he is a brilliant student, taking professors and administrators to task for their stale and stodgy methods of teaching. Rancho is also very kind-hearted, standing up for his friends and doing whatever he can to help them realize their life can be their own despite family and societal pressures. One of his mantras is ”All is Well!” from a story he tells from youth involving his family village’s employment of a night watchmen who always called out that phrase while on nighttime patrols, bringing a sense of security to the residents. Come to find out, the watchmen couldn’t see well at night and the village was robbed as a result. Rancho learns from this event that for one’s emotional and mental wellbeing, it is sometimes necessary to fool your heart and mind into believing everything is all right, hence “All is Well!”
“Three Idiots” succeeds in large part because of its emotional universality. You didn’t have to grow up or go to school in India to sympathize with these guys and what they’re going through. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Bollywood production without a bit of singing and dancing. The musical numbers are hilarious and heartwarming with “All is Well!” being one of the songs. One item to note as well is the fact that most of the film is spoken in Hindi with a dash of English here and there, but the subtitles are more than acceptable and the situations and facial expressions more than make up for any potential language barrier. Trust me when I say you’ll enjoy this film as is J
Here in the U.S. we tend to watch a lot of American productions without as much exposure to the rest of the world and it’s refreshing to watch countries like China or India as their filmmakers mature and the quality of their productions are brought up to par with the West. Bollywood is changing and indeed changing fast and “Three Idiots” joins a wave of newer films like “Slumdog Millionaire” that are being imported from India for our enjoyment. After all, they watch a lot of our stuff and it wouldn’t hurt to watch some of theirs too. J
All is Well!