3 Plus Several Idiots

10 Jan

2010 is already a couple of weeks old, so this is really a pointless exercise but I thought I’d add my 2 cents for personal satisfaction if nothing else. By now you’ve not only read the middling reviews (one, two) but probably also watched the movie as well as the great sideshow under the new, improved Buy Ticket, Win Controversy Free! program that’s become de rigeur in 21st century Bollywood.

Before we get to that, however, Memsaab, who’d been excited about 3 Idiots since her visit to the set, writes about the one great flaw of the movie:

Rancho’s fundamental problem is that he has no flaws. He gets top marks effortlessly, he is wise beyond his years, he is clever. He is too perfect for words, and thus becomes a sometimes obnoxious caricature: his philosophizing quickly becomes preachy and even cruel (his “murder” statement to Virus at Joy Lobo’s funeral). His only behavior called into question is his abandonment of his friends and the girl he loves, whom he leaves without a word of explanation; but even that is held up as being out of his control, due to a bargain that he had made out of his zeal for learning, and it is quickly forgiven. It doesn’t help that Aamir himself has tended to play similar unblemished characters a little too often lately (how I would love to see him in another Ghulam-type role!). The beauty of the Munnabhai films is that Munna himself is far from perfect: his fumblings to do the right thing are often awkward and self-sabotaging, but always endearing—because he is relatable. We can see ourselves in him and so we root for him; Rancho needed nobody rooting for him, he had everything under control.

The problem here, as Memsaab points out, is not Aamir Khan’s acting. He actually does a lot better than his younger co-stars as consensus holds. The problem, to me at least, was Aamir himself.

3 Idiots, whoever came up with the basic premise and whatever that premise was, is very much in the Munnabhai vein as pretty much everybody has noted. But the reason why we were able to digest the little homilies from Munna is twofold:

Memsaab hits one nail on the head when she notes that Rancho is “both the guiding spirit and the main character” and that spells disaster because it means he is a character who has nothing to strive for or grow. He has all the answers and all he has to do is just navigate this tiresome world that won’t let Rancho be great the way he can be and he knows he can be. And along the way, he might give you all a helping hand too because that’s the kind of mensch he is. It’s all so pious.

The second part of the problem is that Rancho is bright, articulate and clearly going places. Nobody wants to hear a lecture from some guy who looks like Rancho, does stuff like Rancho and, most importantly, ends up like Rancho. The best part about Munna is that he’s a fuck-up who’s sharing his wonder at the simple things he’s discovered about the world. There’s a sense of a toddler stumbling across his first flower in the wild and dragging it home to show his mommy. “Look at this amazing thing,” Munna says over and over. “Have you ever seen anything like it?” And of course you have, but the way he says it is so childishly wonderful, it makes you take a second look and remember when you felt that way.

Munna doesn’t make you feel terrible or foolish for the choices you’ve made; he is a call to your lost innocence, a beacon to the road not taken that invites you to come play. And the reason why it works is because he’s played by Sunjay Dutt – the biggest fuck-up of Bollywood. He’s so big, so dumb, so goofy, so sweet, such a child even though he’s old enough to be a grandfather and he thinks he’s all that while repeatedly demonstrating that he so isn’t. When Sunjay Dutt tells you something for your own good, you feel indulgent the way you do when a four-year-old is telling you about the benefits of, say, vaccination.

“Oh really, Itty Bitty Boo?” you say. “Is that so, Itty Bitty Boo? What a clever Itty Bitty Boo you are!” And you pinch his cheek and tell him to go play. But then you make a note to yourself that if even four-year- olds are onto this vaccination business, then you might want to check it out.

Aamir Khan is the exact opposite. He’s sharp, he’s supercharged, he’s quick, he’s one of “The Khans” (note the capital letters). There are a lot of things Aamir is, but a fuck-up ain’t one of them. Even when Aamir plays a loser, he’s a heroic, righteous loser. Listening to him deliver lectures on how to be a better anything put me in mind of something Rakhi Sawant once said in the middle of her many kerfuffles (who remembers which) about Salman Khan’s advice to her on the importance of being a good loser: “What does he know about losing? He’s Salman Khan!”

“Easy for him to say!” is the kneejerk response. Is that unfair? Of course it is. Just because you’re a success in one area of your life doesn’t mean you don’t know anything about the darker side of life. But being a movie star is all about perception and in Bollywood this is especially true. You have a brand and the brand is what helps you sell your product i.e. yourself. And Aamir Khan has put considerable thought and energy into cultivating a certain image of himself… and it’s not conducive to Munnabhai-isms.

Which is why even the trailers reeked of Taare Zameen Par II. I’ve gone on at length about how much I hated the Aamir-centric do-gooding second half of TZP, so I won’t piss off Aamir fans (big hello to my BFFs if they’re reading!) by repeating it but I would like to join Memsaab in calling for an edgy Aamir once again.

Now on to the great comedy that opened the new year. Not 3 Idiots, but the Idiots behind it. Adithya writes:

I did see the “Based on Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone” at the closing credits. Chetan is peeved by the fact that the  credits don’t appear in the opening but only in the closing credits. And basically, it means that Chetan’s name, according to him, should be right up there under Writing/Screenplay/Script along with Hirani and Abhijat Joshi who adapted it. Surely all this looks too amateurish to bicker over and what we need here is a solution to define the kind of credits accorded to the different contributors in different medium.

The only solution I can think of is to have something like the Writer’s Guild of America for Indian publications and films. Does anything like that already exist in India? With the way this issue has been played out, I doubt it does.

Here’s the thing. I don’t remember a time when we were allowed to forget that this was a movie based on a Chetan Bhagat novel. From the time that Raju Hirani was in talks with Shah Rukh Khan to play the lead, Five Point Someone was always part of the discussion. And that’s hardly been overlooked since then. Be it reviews or articles or what-have-you, Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone was a big part of the story.

Nor is the issue that Bhagat wasn’t given credit – he clearly was. Nor did Vidhu Vinod Chopra get “inspired” from the text. He drew up a contract and paid for the honor of adapting Five Point Someone to the big screen.

The issue is about the extent of credit. As Adithya writes in his piece, clearly laid out guidelines in a writer’s guild sort of set up (and the Writer’s Guild has some serious bureaucracy to determine who gets what credit because it’s a matter of royalty not just bragging rights – and some of the rules are enough to make your head explode) would probably be the best option.

But unless I’m mistaken (and I admit, the nitty gritty of this drama in a teacup bores me to tears) nobody in this debate is all that bothered with other (less famous) writers who might be getting screwed over every day or the future generations of writers who have a chance of getting screwed. It’s really about whether everybody recognizes that 3 Idiots is a movie adapted from a novel written by a successful novelist.

Which they do. For the rest, maybe he could take a page out of Cormac McCarthy’s playbook: ‘Look, a novel’s a novel and a film’s a film, and they’re very different.’

[Although my personal favorite is:

WSJ: But is there something compelling about the collaborative process compared to the solitary job of writing?

CM: Yes, it would compel you to avoid it at all costs.


I’ll lay you whatever odds you like, in a matter of months you’ll see copies of the book being sold under its new title, “3 Idiots a.k.a. Five Point Someone, Now a Major Motion Picture” or words to that effect. I wonder if the cable people will bill Bhagat’s publishing house for the publicity work.

PS: Thanks to Pitu Sultan for the press conference video.


Posted by on January 10, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video


23 responses to “3 Plus Several Idiots

  1. memsaab

    January 10, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Ha ha! Are you ready to start writing screenplays Amrita? 🙂

    • memsaab

      January 10, 2010 at 4:08 pm

      plus, you are so dead-on about taking advice from Sanju/Munna!

  2. pitu

    January 10, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Aamir Khan’s films = Sanctimonious yawnfests.
    Why bother, when one can watch Rangeela over and over? 3i is not a patch on the Munnabhai movies. Oh great Raju saab, make Munnabhai Chale Amrika RIGHT THIS MINUTE!

  3. Piyush

    January 10, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    I still dont understand why Munnabhai movies are considered such good movies.

  4. nsfw

    January 11, 2010 at 12:00 am

    Grin. But I really don’t get why Aamir being Aamir pisses people off. In the beginning *I* used to get pissed off too, but with the career choices he has made, and the way they have played out, I do think he has earned himself the right to be smugly sanctimonious. 🙂

  5. nsfw

    January 11, 2010 at 12:07 am

    >Munna doesn’t make you feel terrible or foolish for the choices you’ve made

    For me personally, I think this is it. We all might be closer to Sanjay than we care to admit but Aamir is a kind of hope that we *can* REALLY be all that. He is proof. 🙂

  6. apu

    January 11, 2010 at 1:15 am

    Glad to see I’m not the only one who didn’t find the Munnabhai movies all that great (Thanks, Piyush!). Honestly Ams, I found them both sort of tedious…3 Idiots may have a “message” and be sanctimonious at its heart, but I found it thoroughly enjoyable. Could it have been better? Definitely. The end – esp. showing Rancho as some super-genius who lives in the remote Himalayas but has published 400 papers – was waaaaaay overdone, but the rest of it, I could live with.

  7. Srinivas

    January 11, 2010 at 7:48 am

    Thanks yaar Piyush – glad that I am not the only one not exactly raving about the Munnabhai movies.

    And Pitu got it right with Amir Khan movies = Sanctimonious yawnfests. That scene when he explains the origin of “All is well” – I wanted to chuck my shoes at the screen. Wonder which social ill he will address in his next movie.

    But then nothing can beat the AK marketing juggernaut I guess 🙂

  8. Gradwolf

    January 11, 2010 at 10:15 am

    Hilarious stuff that Aamir safeguarding VVC’s mic like that. Didn’t notice till Pitu pointed out!

  9. notself

    January 11, 2010 at 10:20 am

    Thanks for two big laughs to start off the morning with- “Itty Bitty Boo” and the CM quote!
    Aamir has been living off his so called charm for so long! Even off sceen the stupid goofy smile is plastered to his face all the time,as if he is scared that the spell of his so called charm would break if he stops smiling.Doesn’t say anything inspired like SRK or do something outrageous like SK.He is an exellent actor as witnessed in Rangeela and Sarfarosh..if only he stopped taking his image so seriously.
    I would totally watch this movie for the genuinely charming Sharman and Madhavan but I guess they would not have got enough footage.

  10. More the merrier!

    January 11, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Lol @ last para, but you’re so darned right! This whole “controversy” thing is too idiotic and I haven’t been following it at all (obsessively or otherwise).

    I first learned about it at memsaab’s, where I also watched a YouTube clip of Raju addressing the press; he seemed sincerely shocked that after signing a contract and all, and being aware of where and how the credits would be awarded, the author comes back so late in the game and gets everyone embroiled in a bad-taste bickering (for what? *More* fame?).

    I’m totally with McCarthy in this matter — he seals the deal with that very first Q&A where he asks the writer to sign the contract and then go to bed, coz it then becomes someone else’s baby. And I guess if you’re a writer that’s prone to second-thoughts-and-then-some, the thing to do is spend months reading the contract, fine print etc. *before* you effing sign it. But once you do, remember to “go to bed”. But you’re probably also dead-on (aside from the Munna advice bit like memsaab says) about this sort of drama being de rigeur as far as anything (even remotely) related to 21st century Bollywood is concerned. (Otoh, notice how, according to MC, Ethan came back with his Little Gold Man for “No Country” and said “Well, I didn’t do anything but I’m keeping it.” Can’t expect such stratospheric levels of humility, on both parts, in this (scandal saves the) day and age Bollywood, can we?)

    And thanks a bunch for the WSJ interview (always a delight to see writers, especially the awfully reserved ones, (somewhat) spill their guts). I loved CM’s take on consanguinity (wrt finding common ground), productivity and luck. And oh yeah, vacations *are* overrated. I wholeheartedly agree. 😀

  11. Kiran Manral

    January 12, 2010 at 4:06 am

    Agree completely, plus the irony about the original bad boy turning a Gandhian leaf in the Munnabhai series…

  12. Pantless in Peninsula

    January 12, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    Hey BTW, check out the ‘3 Plus Several e-diots‘ in my own backyard, who actually set the bar(t) really high as far as “cool”ness quotient goes! Now tell me you didn’t laugh your subway-riding (swaddled-in-Saks-warm-coat) ass off at this bit of West Coast ingen-ewww-ity? 😛

    And hey, we have our very own Uday Chopra! Try this: “It feels strangely normal,” said Luke Jakobsson, a student from Castro Valley who rode BART from the East Bay in nothing but shoes, a Swedish soccer jersey and matching skivvies. “Although I’m not sure how I feel about the wind in my ass.” (“It feels normal… though I’m not sure how I feel”? Yeah right. See what I’m saying???) 😀

    • PiP

      January 12, 2010 at 1:50 pm

      p.s: oopsie. I spoke too soon. Looks like the whole damn phenom may have started in the NYC subway only! I should have known, huh? 😀 And it’s not just an SFO thing, apparently (pare-pant-ly? ha ha ha!): “On Sunday, subway riders in 44 cities around the world stripped off their pants in the name of silliness.”

  13. Sands

    January 12, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Totally with you and memsaab on this one. Just kept nodding in agreement as I went through the entire post. Nicely done!

  14. Amrita

    January 13, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Memsaab – like anything I’d write would be even remotely producable! 😀

    Pitu / Srinivas – unfortunately, that’s where it seems to be headed. I’m beginning to wish Lagaan and RDB hadn’t been good movies.

    Piyush / Apu – I think the reason is that they were directed by a man who clearly had a distinct POV and wasn’t kowtowing to the establishment when he wrote his movies. And he had a sense of humor that didn’t need to live in the toilet to exist. All very refreshing. Plus they were well made. I don’t know if they’re the best thing since sliced bread, but they’re definitely standouts from the past decade.

    Nsfw – I’ll admit he does have a leg to stand on but even Gandhi had a sense of humor about himself, yaar. 😀

    Adithya – I love the “uh oh, what do I do now?” expression on his face when VVC loses it. I felt really bad for RHirani though. Poor thing didnt deserve that and his agitation was uncomfortable to watch, like a kid being bullied at the playground. 😦

    Notself – actually, no the other two have lots of time to themselves. It’s just that the ghost of Rancho hovers over all of them constantly. He really is like Gandhi in the second Munnabhai 😀

    MoretM – I loved CM as a writer but after that interview I just adore him! He’s one of those writers who you read and you think, “my god, that person who I dont know at all can explain the landscape of the interior of my head better than I can!” Love him. And yes, felt really bad for RHirani more than anyone else.

    Kiran – didnt last very long, did it? Or only as long as it took for Amar Singh to get his hands on him!

    PiP – what! You didnt participate? I dont know how they even think about parking their bare butts on a subway car though. EW.

    Sands – thanks! 🙂

  15. Ramsu

    January 13, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    Aamir’s become a little like Kamalhassan, hasn’t he? He’s cut out all the risk from his characters, even though it might seem like he’s doing a bunch of new and interesting things all the time. It seems like, the more money your movies make, the less freedom you have to make something that could lose money. Maybe it will take either retirement from the hero business (like Amitabh) or a bunch of big flops to free these guys up.

  16. DG

    January 15, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    What apu said. *nods head* Esp Munnabhai Mark II made me want to gouge my eyes out – I couldn’t bear look at that godawful Dutt mug. oof!

    I’d admit one thing abt this movie – the only thing Rancho lacked was a halo and that was a big meh but overall, good fun. But for the love of all that is good, what the eff was Madhavan doing masquerading as a Farhan Quereshi? The bloke didn’t look / seem / sound Muslim even one single second. And he looks 22 as much as I look 22! gah!

  17. aroon

    January 18, 2010 at 4:54 am

    Hmmm so u didnt like 3 idiots and Aamir.. hmmmmm

    • Amrita

      January 18, 2010 at 3:17 pm

      Well, I liked the movie more than Aamir. Do we have to break up now? 😉

  18. aroon

    January 19, 2010 at 12:38 am

    heheheh bum 🙂

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