Director: Rajkumar Hirani
Game-changing Idiot: Aamir Khan
Endearing female lead: Kareena Kapoor
Narrating Idiot: R. Madhavan
Good-Natured Idiot: Sharman Joshi
Named Virus: Boman Irani
Annoying dude: Omi Vaidya
Jane Smiley is a Pulitzer Prize winning author. After struggling to complete a manuscript, she paused and read 100 books in order to dissect "the novel". The result of this study is the book: 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel. In discussing the categorization of novels, Smiley proposes a clock system (a description of which follows, also see picture above). Utilizing the clock as a frame for 3 Idiots, we can understand its allure (despite it's "okay" film-making).
"...imagine an analog clock face with the novel in the middle and the forms of discourse it is related to arranged around the circumference. If we then plot some of our novels around the clock, how the catalog of novels arranges itself is easier to understand, and how novels succeed or fail is also easier to understand. Most authors do not, of course, consciously position their novels in relation to all the others, but inevitably, after the novel is out of the author's hands, it takes up its position in the bookcase, in the reader's mental library, and, for the sake of argument, on the face of our clock.
"The clock has twelve stations, of course. Each station represents a specific type of discourse. Each type has essential characteristics and offers the reader a particular form of pleasure. If the reader does not gain the sort of pleasure she expects from that type of discourse, she will be disappointed no matter what other pleasures she does gain (if, for example, she is listening to a joke and it isn't funny, it doesn't matter much whether it is informative or eloquent). Much of a reader's willingness to suspend disbelief grows out of whether she and the author agree on what category or categories of discourse a text falls into."
Smiley states the more ambitious works utilize more of the clock. A novel like Don Quixote is "...tale, joke, confession, and even essaylike discourses on various subjects are folded into a travel narrative, a history, a biography, an epic, and a romance. The two volumes of the novel seem to encompass the world of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries partly because they encompass nine of our twelve narrative forms."
If we break down 3 Idiots, we have:
Travel: two-fold: the course of our Idiots through four years of college; of the elder Madhavan and Joshi to find Khan.
History: the story is flashback of the Idiots time in college
Biography: we get the entirety of Khan's life; the film is about Khan
Tale: Smiley describes this as "always fictional and always entertaining It can therefor include any entertaining element: magic, trickery, deception, dread, implausible plot twists, happy endings, unrealistic circumstances, and nonhuman consciousnesses--but it must induce pleasure or it doesn't qualify as a tale." Which means, Black Swan is not a tale. Pineapple Express is a tale. As is 3 Idiots.
Joke: lots of situations in the film are comic
Gossip: we don't know what's happened to Khan, since his friends haven't heard from him since college. So in hunting for him we're involved in the gossip of what ill or fortune has befallen him.
Diary/letter: the college years are narrated through voice-over by Madhavan. He gives us his reactions and interpretations of events.
Polemic: Khan is a virus to the college system of India. The main conflict of the film is how Khan lives his life differently than everyone else. He challenges the president of the college, his friends, his friends parents, his girlfriend...everyone. The film is a cry against the status quo outlook that people should learn and do and become only to achieve societal benchmarks of success. Khan preaches following your heart and to "Pursue excellence" because "success will follow, pants down."
(note: instead of polemic, one could argue for "essay" since Smiley defines the "essay" as "like polemic, uses logic and example to make an argument, but gets rid of the emotional fervor, adopting instead a reasoned and objective tone." Khan is more reasoned and objective and polite in his battles with the system (unlike Tyler Durden in Fight Club, for instance), but I think the film itself is being polemic)
Epic: the film is analyzing the character of modern India by addressing not just the education system but the society around it: why kids go to school in India, the family pressure, and the result of this pressure (a nation of people who are living lives they don't love, that they don't even really care about). If the narrative were only contained to the forces within the college it wouldn't be an epic. Van Wilder is not an epic. Van is extraordinary. Our idiots, Khan aside, are typical, we are shown, of those around them. They're everymen. And the epic, as Smiley describes, is "what makes up a particular national character." We're viewing the making-up, first-hand.
Romance: the relationship between Khan and Kapoor
Let's count. That's...10 of the 12 discourses. Which explains the 170 minute running time.
Can you see how 3 Idiots is a powerful film? It breathes and dares in a way few movies do. It is to India what Gone With the Wind was to America. Without innovation or gimmick or tapping an already existing fan-base, breadth and depth are how it succeeds.
Did I Like It:
Yes. I came to really like the characters, and the twist, midway through, took my by surprise.
There are some legitimate powerful moments.
But some ridiculous ones as well. There's penile electrocution. A birth involving dozens of car batteries and a vacuum cleaner. An incantation that affects a baby (while silly in context, it's symbolically powerful: it's showing the phrase is what the next generation will respond to). There's a speech by a student that's "hilarious" because he has memorized the words without knowing what they mean (he's reading in a language he doesn't know but wanted to impress people with by speaking it) and he's saying things that are insulting to the president and dean, except it makes no sense because how could he possibly know how to intone the words if he has zero idea what the words mean? And the wake-up from coma...
During those moments I kept thinking, "okay, come on, lame." But the rest of the film is good enough, and the characters endearing enough, that even the things I found dumb I enjoyed.
What It's Good For:
-introduction to Bollywood
-not many movies pack this much stuff in or take this many structural risks
-positive view of life
-some really silly moments
% Character / % Actor's personality or previous roles
I've never seen any of these people before, so this is all guesswork after watching some videos.
Aamir Khan: 60/40