Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

December 25, 2009

Playing to the gallery

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 2:44 am

December 25, 2009

Cast: Aamir Khan, R Madhavan, Sharman Joshi, Kareena Kapoor, Boman Irani

Director: Rajkumar Hirani

Going home after watching 3 Idiots I felt like I’d just been to my favorite restaurant only to be a tad under-whelmed by their signature dish. It was a satisfying meal, don’t get me wrong, but not the best meal I’d been expecting.

3 Idiots, starring Aamir Khan, produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, and written and directed by Rajkumar Hirani, is a film of impeccable pedigree. It’s a breezy entertainer and it’s got its heart in the right place, but it appears to be lacking in the naiive idealism and old-fashioned sincerity that propelled Hirani’s two Munnabhai films to cult status.

Loosely based on Chetan Bhagat’s pulpy bestseller Five Point Someone3 Idiots takes light-hearted but pointed jabs at the Indian education system, raising pertinent questions about the relevance of learning by rote, the obsession with high grades, and the dangerous repercussions of parental pressure to pursue traditional streams.

Set on an engineering campus in Delhi modeled after the IIT, the film features Aamir Khan as free-spirited student Rancho who dishes out important life lessons to his roommates Farhan and Raju (played by R Madhavan and Sharman Joshi), even as Naziesque campus director Viru Sahastrabuddhe (played by Boman Irani) clashes with him for brazenly rejecting conventional wisdom.

Rancho, as it turns out, can do just about anything. From empowering Farhan to convince his family he wants to be a photographer not an engineer, to nursing another friend back to health after a failed suicide attempt, Rancho even helps an unsuspecting girl open her eyes to the superficial jerk she’s about to marry, and believe it or not, at one point he even delivers a baby on the college ping-pong table taking instructions from a doctor on webcam.

But soon after teaching them these valuable lessons and touching their lives in some way or the other, Rancho vanishes. The film is told mostly in flashback, with Farhan and Raju setting off to find their buddy a few years later.

And because no Hindi film can be complete without a romance, Hirani and his co-writer Abhijat Joshi also manage to squeeze in a love track between Rancho and the college director’s daughter Pia (played by Kareena Kapoor).

The film’s first half breezes by effortlessly between Hirani’s trademark comic flourishes including a hilarious ragging scene, two witty confrontations with teachers, and even an uproarious Farrelly Brothers-style gag involving a rolling pin and a paralysed man. Expectedly, the humor is alternated with moments of poignancy like that delicate scene in which the group first discovers a fellow student’s suicide.

Problem is, the genuine lump-in-your-throat moments are few and far between, the screenplay populated instead by a batch of scenes calling for push-button emotions. Where the Munnabhai films cunningly tricked you into shedding an unexpected tear, 3 Idiots goes for full-throttle melodrama.

The film’s second half in particular, is a tiring mess of ridiculous back-stories, convenient coincidences and sappy sentimentality.

Despite these hiccups, the film still works to a fair extent because of the inherent optimism in the plot and the sheer good-naturedness of its characters. It’s hard to resist Rancho’s cheery “All izz well” chant even if Hirani does push it a little too far when he ties it to a baby’s first in-womb kick, and the scene I mentioned earlier involving a delivery on a ping-pong table.

Of the cast, Sharman Joshi has a meatier role than R Madhavan, hence succeeds in fleshing him out more competently. Kareena Kapoor makes her presence felt despite the small role, and Boman Irani – although he’s trapped in a caricature – inspires hearty laughs.

But for me, the performance that stood out in this film belongs to lesser-known LA-based actor Omi Vaidya who stars as the Hindi-challenged Chatur Ramalingam, who deserves credit for turning an old childish gag into what is one of the film’s funniest scenes on the strength of his pitch-perfect expressions and delivery.

And then of course, there’s Aamir Khan as Rancho. Who never quite passes off as a 20-something-year-old, but remains the heart and soul of 3 Idiots with his spot-on comedy, his measured histrionics, and his immense likeability.

The film, in the end, is a broad entertainer that plays to the gallery, well-intentioned but sadly muddled. However it’s warmer than any other comedy this year – think Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, All The Best or De Dana Dan – and hence it’s unquestionably an enjoyable watch.

From the man behind those decade-defining Munnabhai films, however, it is far from his best work. I’m going with three out of five for director Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots, an earnest but calculated effort that runs, but never flies. Watch it anyway, because it’s the season to be jolly, and good laughs are guaranteed.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)


  1. sir i always follow ur reviews but 3 idots deserves more than 3 stars atleast 4 my rating is 4.5for this movie

    Comment by imaz — January 21, 2012 @ 8:39 pm

  2. completely agreed with this one, i guess it is the Hindi Cinema’s most over-rated movie.

    Comment by gaurav — June 16, 2012 @ 3:24 pm

  3. i am not agree with your review

    Comment by jitesh — July 13, 2012 @ 10:17 pm

  4. hello sir… i’m following your reviews for last one year..and its really grt. Just for curiosity i want to know about ur review of 3 idiots…and after reading this review i felt you might have made a mistake while judging this movie… think if i’m wrong.

    Comment by prashant kumar — November 5, 2013 @ 8:47 pm

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