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.