Right up front I have to say that I am in no way objective about this film. Director Raju Hirani is a good friend of mine, and I spent a couple of days on the sets back in March and had a brilliant time interacting with the incredibly smart, funny and friendly cast and crew—including this guy named Karan who spoiled me rotten. All I had to do was *think* about wishing I had some tea, or water, and there he was with whatever it was I was thinking about wanting.
Oh, and I read the script in advance too, because Raju asked me to look at the subtitles so that “bloggers like you won’t make fun of them” (yes, that is a direct quote).
So honestly speaking, I wasn’t going to write it up (many others already have anyway)—but it’s hard for me to keep chup when I have things to say! Also I think it’s okay now if I share my photos from the set (which I wasn’t really supposed to take, but I promised I’d keep them to myself until the film released).
I adore (adore!) both of the Munnabhai films and this one shares many of the same trademarks: side-splitting humor, heartfelt melodrama, colorful songs, characters you care about, and an engaging story with a message. Raju makes movies which embody the qualities which drew me to (especially older) Indian cinema in the first place, and thank goodness for that! And I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and the roller-coaster ride of emotions it entailed, but I do have to say that I missed the relative simplicity of his earlier movies.
My comments include minor spoilers so consider yourself warned.
My biggest problem with this film is the Rancho character. Let me hasten to add that it has little to do with Aamir, and I was one of the people thinking “Oh lord not another 40-something playing a 20-something.” When I saw him in person I was really relieved to see that he looked younger than I imagined he would. (Here he is discussing the evening’s shoot with Raju.)
What I didn’t expect though is how Aamir really inhabits the body of a young boy-man. His body language is amazing: I could see my 15-year-old nephew in his gestures, his way of walking, his demeanour while being scolded by authority figures (Virus and Farhan’s father). And he also imbues Rancho with an elfin charm and compassion which *almost* salvages him.
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.
This sense of Rancho as a savior type is reinforced by Farhan and Raju’s obvious worship of him. Maybe the intention was to make him a Gandhi-type figure—but I don’t think it works here if so. In Lage Raho, Gandhi is a guiding spirit, but the protagonist of the story is Munna. In this film Rancho is both the guiding spirit and the main character, and he doesn’t (he couldn’t) have the gravitas that Gandhi does anyway. Perhaps if Farhan and Raju had been stronger counterparts it would have worked okay, but they were more Circuit than Munna—not a bad thing in itself, of course!
The performances are for the most part fantastic. I watched Raju working with different actors, and he bolstered nerves and soothed insecurities where necessary, and had a clear idea of what he wanted from everyone. He also fostered an atmosphere of collaboration for the artists (including technicians) on set. It was truly fascinating to listen in as he and Boman and Aamir discussed the final scene between Virus and Rancho (a scene I have to say I wouldn’t have wanted to have to act out! Very difficult!). You can see them on the monitor below, with the camera lens up on the left, and Aamir’s back on the right side of the pillar.)
I must say that I think Boman had a thankless task with the Virus character. Set up as he was in conflict with the paragon that was Rancho and the lovable duo of Farhan and Raju, he was doomed to come across as more unlikable and mean-spirited than he might have otherwise, and it made him one-dimensional. His role here has been likened to that of Dr. Asthana in MBBS, but Asthana was up against a thug. Virus nourishes a hatred for three guys who are basically kids, and pretty sympathetic ones at that.
I’ve already said that I think Aamir’s performance was absolutely stellar. Madhavan and Sharman Joshi are equally outstanding as Farhan and Raju. Two completely different people who nonetheless become friends through their shared tribulations—their chemistry with each other and with Aamir is superb. Their relationships with one another are very real and touching, and they are people I’d want to be friends with.
Here is Madhavan with Shelly, who played the rich lady at Mona’s wedding who is Suhas’s friend. Shelly is Vinod Chopra’s lovely and interesting sister, and one of the best things about being on set was becoming friends with her. Madhavan himself is very personable and charming, and hilarious.
I took so many pictures of Sharman getting his wedding pagri wrapped that a guard came over and chastised me, but honestly it wasn’t Sharman that interested me (although I think he is a wonderful actor, and seems like a very nice guy to boot) as much as the whole turban-wrapping thing—I was trying to get all the steps captured. Saree pleating is nothing compared to this!
But I digress. Kareena (whom I would have loved to see more of, as many have already said) is hilarious in this film, and her Pia is a warm and loving girl next door. The scene where she drunkenly compares Gujarati food to weapons is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, partly because my friend Bina’s relatives have on occasion fed me to the point of exploding. (Raju says that it was inspired by a comment Javed Akhtar made once to him, that Gujarati food was scary-sounding.) Omi as the tightly wound Chatur perfectly embodies the ravages that a life spent in competition and obsession for money will bring. And I loved little Millimeter (Rahul Kumar) too—actually, there were lots of side characters that I really loved: Mona Singh, Jaaved Jaaferi, Parikshat Sahni, Raju’s mother (Amardeep Jha).
The cinematography too is just gorgeous. I am so glad I saw this movie on a big screen; I almost feel like I’ve seen Himachal Pradesh in person (and I am dying to see it in person). And shot angles were varied and interesting when the scenery wasn’t. Although I’ve seen criticism that it was insensitive to compare Raju’s home situation to an old black and white film, I laughed out loud. Maybe I am a bad person, but it was done with such affection—affection for cinema history, and affection for the Rastogis—that I didn’t mind a bit.
Here is Director of Photography Murali with his camera.
And again with Associate Director Rajesh Mapuskar, who gave me a ride on his motorcycle to the sets through the streets of northern Bombay which thrilled me to bits, even though he rode at a much more sedate pace than normal, I suspect. I took this photo the night before the actual shoot, when all the crew got together for a planning session.
It was amazing to see how much work goes into the making of a scene which lasts 15 minutes or so. This is the wedding set where Rancho meets Pia. A lot of people put in a lot of effort into building it, lighting it, and decorating it!
As for the songs, I have to admit that I really hate “All Izz Well.” Hate it (and can’t make it stop running through my head). But the others are lovely, especially in context with the film. I absolutely love the picturization of “Zooby Dooby” and “Behti Hawa Sa” is such a pretty melody. The song that everyone in the theater really got into was “Give Me Some Sunshine” (watching this with a very enthusiastic and whistling Indian audience was a treat). As Joy strummed his guitar and sang, we cried for him and sang along, and when he died we were devastated. Which brings me to another important point: the message.
I have been reading Indian media online for a long time, and I am always appalled around exam time by all the student suicides. I am not Indian and never went to school there, but that sort of thing doesn’t happen here, not on the same scale anyway (and I live in a town with pretty high-pressure and renowned universities). It is a tragedy that really needs to be addressed, and if this film makes a difference to even one parent or student, then it’s a huge success in my book. I love that Raju cares to say things that need to be said, and the skill with which he does it is unsurpassed. Truly he makes wonderful films, and I can’t wait for the next one! (Here he is with one of his ADs and Sanjay Lafont who plays Suhas.)
3 Idiots is not perfect, but it is total paisa vasool. If you can tolerate a saintly hero and some OTT melodrama (which I could, given all the other goodness inherent in it) (and also, if you can’t, you probably shouldn’t be watching Hindi movies anyway) you will thoroughly enjoy yourself. I know I did, and so did the audience I saw it with.
PS: Raju very kindly gave me a credit at the end (but not before Chetan Bhagat’s)—see if you can spot it!