When I’m super excited about a movie, I try not to read up on it too much. The element of surprise is so rare in Bollywood these days that it’s rather nice to go into the theaters not knowing what to expect. So, while I knew ‘3 idiots’ was about three engineering college students, I really had no idea what the story line was. Yes, I expected a story of camaraderie and friendship, but I didn’t expect such a whammy of lessons, ones that South Asian parents especially need to learn.
‘3 idiots’ is about three students at a top engineering college. From day one, they are taught to race with each other, because only the ones that come out on top will succeed in life. Students crammed their way through exams, papers and projects for 4 years, without stopping to think really about what all that studying meant.
But new student, Rancho (Aamir Khan) was different. He questioned professors’ teaching methods. He wasn’t a bully, he wasn’t a ladies man–he was a total geek, the class clown and the least favorite of all the professors because he refused to just take their word for everything they taught. He wanted proof of science and technology. And while other students were studying all night long, he was conjuring up new projects and new inventions. And yet, he was the top student all four years.
His two roomates and best buddies, Farhan (Madhavan) and Jay (Sharman Joshi) were on the opposite end of the academic spectrum. Farhan had absolutely no interest in engineering, he secretly wanted to become a wildlife photographer but his father was determined to make him an engineer. He was a bright student or else he wouldn’t have been admitted into a prestigious engineering college, but his disinterest was the cause behind his barely passing grades. Jay had the opposite problem. He wanted nothing more than to become an engineer. He came from a very poor background with a sickly father, unwed sister and overworked mother. He wanted to make life better for his them, but his family situation stressed him out so much that he couldn’t concentrate on his studies and did poorly on exams and was also at the bottom of the academic ladder.
So, here are the three idiots; the best student in the class and the two worst students in the class. They were the best of friends but after graduation, they drift apart and ‘3 idiots’ the story of how they unite. But, this story has another major theme running through it. The pressure parents put on their children. Suicide rates are exceptionally high at prestigious institutions in India and South Asian culture particularly lacks the element of praise and encouragement towards students. There is a constant pressure to excel but without any motivation. You are scared into doing well, so while you understand that there are bad consequences to failing or doing poorly, you can’t connect with it because it’s an unknown fear. This unknown fear eats away at many students and some simply can’t put up with it.
I really related to Madhavan’s character, Farhan. Farhan’s dream was to become a wildlife photographer but his father thought it was impractical. Farhan’s father never stopped to think what an impractical engineer Farhan would make. His head was always in the clouds; he was a creative person, technology and science eluded him. But that didn’t matter to his father and so he did poorly. As the daughter of first-generation Bangladesh-Americans, I understand Farhan’s predicament. For as long as I could remember, I’ve loved words. I can’t imagine being anything else except a writer or editor or both. Publishing is not without struggle; there is no straight path to becoming a writer, something my parents fail to understand. The concept of ‘freelancing’ is foreign to them. There is only one path in life;
grade school>college>graduate school>work>marriage>house>kids>death
There can be no other way around this. Unless you are a girl, then marriage can come before graduate school and work.
I’m glad ‘3 Idiots’ sheds some light on the predicament of ignoring one’s heart’s calling to be the ‘perfect child’. Making your parents happy is yes, a child’s duty but you can’t make anyone else happy if you, yourself are not happy first. That is the biggest lesson I’ve learned 2009, which I will fully employ in the new decade.
Go watch ‘3 Idiots’ if you haven’t already!
and Happy New Year 🙂