Saturday, January 2, 2010

Bollywood Movie of the New Year: 3 Idiots

Whew! Fresh off a New Year, a birthday, and a whole lot of things. Happy New Year, everyone!

Here's a brand-new Bollywood film for the new year, as well. I just got home from seeing it (Fun Fact: If you live in the Bay Area, at least, you can see new Bollywood movies at an AMC near you!) and it was both fun and appropriate for the aforementioned occasions, even!

And it's always great to go see a Bollywood film in a packed house (the first showing was soooold out and I had to hang around for a couple hours to buy tickets for the next -- it *just* opened.). It's like going to see the melodrama: people clap when great things happen, and gasp when terrible things happen, and laugh in great waves at all the funny stuff--AND the accidentally funny stuff. Even when you're all by yourself, as I always am at these places, it feels like you're seeing it with a bunch of friends. (And I've never seen more kids at a movie, and that includes you, Disney. And yes, they were mostly Extremely Quiet.)

[eta: Xeni Jardin did a review of this movie as well, on BoingBoing, located here. Interesting to see the similarities!]

3 Idiots, 2009

Directed by: Rajkumar Hirani (who also directed Lage Raho Munna Bhai)

Produced by: Vidhu Vinod Chopra

Starring: Aamir Khan, R. Madhavan, Sharman Joshi, Kareena Kapoor, Boman Irani, Omi Vaidya

It's Kinda Like: a little Dead Poets' Society with a dash of Good Will Hunting -- but WITHOUT Robin Williams -- and a happy ending. (What, it's a comedy! It's not like that's giving anything away.) And there are even MacGyver moments.

I was feeling a little curmudgeonly today, and going to see this movie definitely made me happy. For one, it stars Aamir Khan, whom I enjoy a lot, for a lot of reasons. He produced and starred in Lagaan, a fantastic film. And he's got some clown in his physicality, which means I totally enjoy watching him onscreen. (Plus he kinda reminds me of my Uncle Hessam.) And subject-matter-wise, like I said, 3 Idiots seemed to fit the moment. It's about three friends surviving college and an impromptu 10-year reunion -- and MY 10th is coming up as well; we were born in the same year, awww! (And did I mention I just had a birthday?)

Plus, how can you NOT love a movie that has cameos of both cartoon sperm and the CHICKEN DANCE?

Like Dead Poets' Society, 3 Idiots deals with a repressive educational system, only this one's more immediately practically-oriented: *these* students endure the heckling, the arcane traditions, and the vicious professors in order to graduate and directly get jobs as engineers. The money and the prestige is what they *seek* -- or what their parents seek for them -- not what they already have in order to attend.

The film takes place both in the present-ish, and 10 years from now. Our story opens as a bet is called in: the characters reunite 10 years after graduation. The guy who made the bet in the first place, and initiates the call, is Chatur, a fatuous, self-important asshole (played with slimy fabulousness by Omi Vaidya). He's that guy you love to hate, the school's number-one brownnoser who's mean to his classmates and will do anything to get ahead.

The good guys are the round-faced Farhan (R. Madhavan) and the slightly desperate-looking Raju (Sharman Joshi) -- but our real hero, Rancho (short for Ranchhoddas Shamaldas Chanchad and played of course by Aamir Khan) is nowhere to be found. His best friends haven't seen him in years, in fact -- but Chatur says he knows where Rancho is! is So the road trip begins, while we watch, in flashback, how their story began.

The subject matter is heavy -- the price of repressive education -- but, like Hirani's Munnabhai films, the treatment of that subject is light. Light not because the director *makes* light of serious events (quite the contrary), but because our heroes are funny people. For example, when describing Raju's family, our narrator Farhan says that they're like a 1950s black and white Hindi film: destitute family, mother who loves to complain, chubby unmarried daughter, and father who became paralyzed and had to stop working. As he's describing this, the director switches to black and white for the rest of the scene (and for every scene thereafter in the house). It's funny -- but it's not over-the-top slapstick funny, either; after all, it's a terrible situation! There's gallows humor mixed in, and we all know it's supposed to be there. Hirani stays on the right side of the line.

Similarly, the villain is just ridiculous enough to be funny in that boarding-school "let's all mock the schoolmaster" way, but he still retains enough status to be terrifying. Played by Boman Irani,* who also played the unhinged mobster villain Lucky Singh in Lage Raho Munna Bhai, professor "Virus" has poofy hair and a bushy moustache, a huge gut over which he pulls his white pants, a pronounced lisp, and a permanent snarl. His obsession with competition and efficiency starts out as a hilarious quirk, but quickly proves to have terrible, serious consequences for his students.

There *are* moments of over-the-top filminess, but they're on purpose when the characters are feeling silly, like the big "Bollywood" number here. (This movie is so new there's not much on YouTube -- gasp! -- but here's a preview.) Featuring Our Hero and his love interest Pia (Kareena Kapoor), who turns out to be Virus's daughter -- doh!
You can tell this is silly because during the chorus they're doing -- wait for it -- the chicken dance. THE chicken dance. The CHICKEN DANCE.

There's a love story, as featured in the clip above, but it's a side plot; the real story is the boys' friendship and what happens to them when Rancho, a genuinely curious, creative spirit, meets a system designed to make machines of them all. It's a fascinating glimpse of college in another familiar-yet-strange culture (they have houseboys, like at Oxford -- but the rooms are teensy!) and a continually-unraveling plot that just keeeeeeps twisting -- and pulling you along for the ride.

I really enjoyed this film. The chemistry between the boys is genuine and funny, the acting is good, the message makes me happy as an educator and an artist (be what you WANT when you grow up! be creative and learn for learning's sake!), it's funny and serious without getting too campy OR weepy (or too predictable) and Science Saves the Day! (Aamir Khan also makes a really believable young, awkward college student. Did you know he's like, forty?)

Verdict: Apparently, most critics agree with me: it's a good one! See it in the theater for additional community spirit!

*Interestingly, Boman Irani was also unrecognizeable as Murli/"M," fabulous gay magazine mogul, in Dostana. And not terrifying at all! I love me a good character actor.


Anonymous said...

If you like Amir Khan you most certainly want to also watch-

Dil Chahta Hai
Taare Zameen Par


Mandy said...


I've seen "Dil Chahta Hai," and "Taare Zeemen Par" is *definitely* next on my list (just became available on Netflix; I've been waiting for ages). Thanks so much for the other suggestions!

--Mandy ;o)