I have never been a fan of Bollywood films; and perhaps most of the reason is due to its lack of depth, unoriginality, and overly-exaggerated acting that, frankly speaking, makes me want to gag. And I would have totally overlooked “3 Idiots” had not too many of my friends recommended it to me. Of course, this is not to imply that I did not have my doubts, I mean the name “3 Idiots” sounds unappealing enough; and, yet, I decided to watch it anyway, expecting it to be just another three hours of hogwash, only to find out that I was wrong. So. Very. Wrong.
I won’t deny that the film has its flaws and manages to maintain its “Bollywoodness”; however the storyline, on the other hand, is nothing short of brilliant. The essence of the film is pretty much summed up in three imperative words: All is well (pronounced as “Aall iz vell”), which emphasizes the notion that one should focus on the present and live life as it is, rather than worrying about the future. These three words further serve as an assurance, instilling hope in the hearts of three young boys, of which, two embark on a journey to fulfill dreams that they wish were their own, while the third friend, depicted as an intellectual and a rebel, goes on to reject common norms, beliefs, and expectations in order to elucidate that simply being “book smart” is not enough.
Although based on fictitious characters, the film clearly depicts the troublesome disturbing reality facing students who commit suicide, because they are unable to live up to their family’s pressure/expectations. Thus, the story of “3 Idiots” revolves around young college students who deal with issues – deep life-altering issues – which are extremely prevalent among youths in Central and South Asia. They struggle to prove themselves in a world where they are told that excelling is everything, even if it costs them their very own lives! These students wish they could go against common norms and pursue careers that they are passionate about but can’t, simply because they are either afraid to go against their parents’ wishes, bring shame upon them, or worse, be disowned. And this burden falls extremely heavy on their shoulders, denying them the ability to explore their individuality and personhood.
Furthermore, traditional, supercilious parents pre-determine the fate of their children’s careers the moment they are born; they condition their children into believing that success and intelligence is measured in grades and percentages. Teachers condition their students into believing that memorization is the key to success, without the need to understand what it is that they are learning. This conditioning, in turn, results in pseudo-intellectuals who have degrees from some of the most prestigious universities in the world. Yet, their whole lives revolve so much around memorization and getting straight A’s that they completely miss out on the opportunity to think logically and question critically.
And so the messages in the film range from students who commit suicide, due to the pressure of education, to the rigid education system in which “nerdy” individuals who memorize textbooks are rewarded, while visionary budding talents are wasted.
I admit watching this film made me extremely nostalgic. Growing up, I was hardly the whiz. Rather, I was more of a nuisance and a rebel. I, too, attended a school where teachers favoured students who got straight A’s, and discriminated against those that didn’t. I was taught to memorize without the need to understand what it was that I was memorizing; from holy texts to periodic tables to pages and pages of text that I copied off blackboards and textbooks. Information was always memorized but never understood. Everything was always dictated and imposed; and while it worked for most people, it never worked for me.
However, all that changed when I moved to the West; however, that’s a whole different topic on its own, so I will further delve into this subject of the schooled “book-smart” versus the knowledgeable intellectual, in another post.
As the famous 18th century English poet, Alexander Pope, once said:
“The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read, has loads of learned lumber in his head.”