PG-13 for Van Wilder-with-a-sense-of-maturity hijinks. There's a lot of urination jokes. There's some crass language. It feels more rebellious than it is. PG-13 might be the most accurate MPAA rating for this movie. While there is nothing that really raises eyebrows that I can remember, besides sophomoric humor, the real issue is the constant --almost flippant --attitude toward suicide. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Rajkumar Hirani
I have a really big confession. Like, really big. While I've watched Indian cinema before, I haven't ever seen a straight-up Bollywood film. You would think with the fact that I'm probably the guy who has seen the most movies that you know (unless you are in my film circles, where I'm the guy who has seen the least and how dare I have a blog?) that I would have seen a Bollywood film up to this point. I mean, I get the genre, kind of. I've addressed stuff like Slumdog Millionaire, which is almost an homage of the genre. But I haven't watched a pure Bollywood film. Part of it is that it is all so intimidating. I know that I would have to scour through a lot of dreck to find the really good stuff and I'm already kind of cynical about the whole forced musical element anyway.
So why did I watch 3 Idiots? I mean, it isn't horrible. But I can safely say that I hadn't heard of it before. My last birthday, I got a scratch-off poster with movies. Just by opening it, I realized I had watched most of the list, both American and International. But then there were four movies that I had never heard of. And they all happened to be Indian films. These weren't movies from The Apu Trilogy or Monsoon Wedding. This was a movie that I even had a hard time finding to ensure that I was talking about the right movie. Now what I'm basically writing about is my own ignorance. One of two things happened. The first option is that I'm wildly ignorant about Bollywood cinema and I feel insecure enough to blame the person who made this poster. The second option is that the person who made this list is a huge Bollywood fan and he really wanted to put some of the more popular Bollywood films on this list. Or maybe it is both. Who knows?
My take on this movie is going to be from a Western perspective. I acknowledge and own my own ignorance. Who knows? Maybe by the time I completely fill in the poster, I might have a more informed opinion. But 3 Idiots feels like an attempt to mimic the Western Hollywood sensibility while maintaining elements that would appease the Bollywood audience. Immediately, I felt like there were elements of (500) Days of Summer mixed with the raunchy comedy of Van Wilder. It wants to be a little bit of everything. It wants to be stupid and goofy and deep and heavy all at the same time. Does it work? It works better than I thought it would, but that's not exactly saying much. Fundamentally, the movie wants to be inspirational. For all of its whimsy, the movie is kind of aiming for a Dead Poets Society element without all of the hard work and pathos needed to get to that moment. I'm going to refer to Aamir Khan's character as Rancho for the bulk of this blog just for simplicity's sake. Rancho's story is the same thing that we've heard time and again. He's the anti-establishment genius. There are times that he reads as autistic and times that he comes across as a rock star. Perhaps the filmmakers really want him to be whatever the plot needs. When he enters, he seems completely anti-social, mimicking Rain Man when he builds something to electrify urine. But he also becomes this guy who makes raids on the administration building and helps make plans to switch speeches on the rich cocky stereotype who can't speak the language.
But the big thing about the movie that kind of gets under my skin is the film's message about suicide. I'm not sure if this is something that activated a real memory or gave me that sense of false memory, but the movie reminded me / brainwashed me into thinking about the suicide rates in India, especially at the university level. One of the recurring motifs in the film is characters committing suicide. The first of the suicides is handled well. It is a curveball. In the midst of this zany comedy, a student who couldn't quite hack his final project ends up killing himself. It's this smash cut to the reality of a situation. The juxtaposition of the singing to the reality of this dead student who was overwhelmed with stress was a powerful tool. The quick blame for this suicide falls to Virus, who is quickly established to be the primary antagonist of the film. And that is a valid appraisal. Had Virus actually taken into consideration the student's psychological needs and reasonable request, that student could have readjusted his priorities and finished the project in a reasonable timeframe. But does no one blame Rancho even just a little bit for his decision. Like, I can't go beyond negligence. But Rancho really wanted to surprise the kid. But at no point did he consider what kind of mental stress that could have been on his shoulders. Rancho had no guarantee that he could have repaired the drone. During that time, the student was convinced that he would be booted out of school. A human being would have said, "Hey, let me help you fix this" instead of offering a surprise. It's a really weird choice.
But it is the second suicide attempt that really bothers me. All of these suicides tended to be in response to Virus's trigger-happy attitude towards booting students from his school. But Raju kind of actually deserved it. He urinated on Virus's door for fun. He got drunk and woke up in a class. All of these things are valid reasons for expelling someone from an institution. Yeah, Virus takes things to a college comedy level with the joy he gets from expelling Raju. But all things even, Raju kind of deserved it. (Raju's story, by the way, is really weird.) So Raju attempts suicide and this is where the tone gets bizarre. One suicide in a movie is shocked. I suppose two suicides could be chalked up to foreshadowing, but I don't really get that sense here. But that second suicide is treated like a joke. The first one has this impact when it is on a tertiary character. But Raju is one of the titular 3 Idiots. When he attempts suicide, it should be a bigger deal than it is. Instead, the movie goes into all of these goofy subplots about tricking Raju out of his coma, including forcing another of the idiots to marry Raju's sister. It's all very uncomfortable and it kind of killed part of the movie for me.
But in terms of fun, yeah, the movie's got it. Is that the point of Bollywood? Is it steeped in making sure that a movie is constantly entertaining? It almost feels like it is based on vaudeville than anything else? It has this really sweeping story about these characters. Sure, the movie is almost three hours for a comedy (which I understand is very typical for a Bollywood film), but it still maintains entertainment all the way through. But there are also some things that really read as a soap opera. Anything involving medicine was absolutely goofy, especially when it came to delivering a baby during a monsoon. It's just that every element of this movie really begged me to shut off my brain and accept the absurdity of it all. To a certain extent, 3 Idiots almost solidified my expectations of what a Bollywood film was supposed to be. It never really got to the proper level of vulnerability, but it also wanted the payoff from being this sweeping and epic film. Did I enjoy it? Okay. Sure. I didn't hate it. But I also struggled to say it is a good movie. It's got a lot of good moments and things that I enjoyed. But it also lacked maturity in almost any way.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.