Monday, February 08, 2010

A Criticism of "3 Idiots"

After hearing that the Hindi movie "3 Idiots" had shed light on the educational system in this country, I was excited. I had read the original book "Five Point Someone" (Chetan Bhagat) and did not see anything regarding the educational system in the book - I saw that book's marketing potential being people's fascination for IITians more than anything else. The book was mediocre.

I watched the movie yesterday. Frankly it was entertaining, but it seemed to have a lot of climactic scenes and needless symbolism which made it dragging. I counted five climaxes with rousing music and all that. I counted 3 different symbols - the Dean's pen, people pulling their pants down (no idea why) and "All is Well" (used tiresomely over and over). English movies have such symbolism, but usually there is a single one in a movie.

But I have two specific criticisms of the movie:
1. Aamir Khan talks about the system - but nowhere in the movie does he identify ANY element of the system. What is a feature of the system? Rote learning is NOT a feature of the system - students learn by rote because the questions asked of them is in that manner. Saying "Rote learning is an issue" is to start blaming a symptom - it is in NO WAY a criticism of any system.
I have explained this better in the article "Are Indian System-Blind?". Basically, conservative societies (such as India) blame people for issues. They do not look at underlying root causes of people's behavior. Such societies also blame the victims for systemic shortcomings.
When we were in school, we used to be contemptous and (yes) envious of people who learnt by rote. ALL of us did it to a certain degree because you cannot pass Indian board exams without rote learning. The people who learnt by rote and got a lot of marks were not any less smarter than us. They were merely performing what was expected in the examination system better than us.
This movie, instead, casts Chatur Ramalingam as an antagonist at the very beginning because he learns by rote. Instead, if you think back to our own experiences in college, our classmates who learnt by rote were also suffering from the same problems that we were. They merely had better memory.
So, Aamir Khan pays lip service to raising questions about the system - but this is still a movie that does not shed ANY light on what the system is. Instead, true to form, it blames the victims.
You could argue that Chatur Ramalingam is competitive while Rancho (Aamir) is not "chasing" after success. But again, that is not a choice individual actors can make. We have a large number of people with a fewer number of jobs. Competition is a natural corollary of such an economy. It is not as if Chatur has any choice in being non-competitive.
That is supposed to be other message of the movie - follow your career dreams. Be whatever you want to become. Do not chase after engineering. I explained why this may not be as easy as it sounds even in ideal environments (See "Myths on Careers"). But in a society in which high-paying jobs are few and concentrated in a few industries, why is it surprising that people chase after engineering or doctor degrees?

My point is that it is easy to pontificate about people going after lucrative jobs or people being competitive - all that you are doing is blaming the victims, instead of explaining why people behave a certain way.
A lot of people chasing after engineering jobs does NOT mean that there is something wrong with those people - it means something is wrong with the existing economy or educational system.

There are so many actual, strong issues in this area. Instead this movie PRETENDS to talk about the system and then switches to blame-the-victims mode. All that it does is reinforce people's prejudices about other people.
And in order to "prove" that its message is authentic, it uses a implausible plot - in which the rote-learner is a bad guy; there is a convenient wild life photographer waiting to fly Madhavan out of India; Raju gets a job in a impossible to believe interview; and the guy who scoffs at rote learning is actually getting the first rank every time (because he is the hero).
If all of the above happens in real life, yes, you have a valid message. The message of this movie and its plot do not coexist.

And stop with the pop-psychology already. It was good in Munna Bhai - but here it is just tiring to see so many "psychological" insights from Aamir Khan squeezed into every scene.
Plus everyone has to be drunk to express their true feelings or show their acting talents - I don't know why.

2. I also see the same distressing trend continuing - people such as Chatur Ramalingam get punished out of all proportion to their actual "crimes". And we are all supposed to enjoy these punishments. Thanks to incredible acting by the guy who played Chatur, I felt extremely sympathetic to him, throughout the movie. I could not find any reason in the movie itself about why he was such a horrific person to be punished with the public humiliation in the "college speech" - we only accept it because Aamir is the hero, and a hero cannot be wrong.
That is, our movies still want us to accept that a hero, by definition is good - not because he does good acts; but because he is the hero. He can harass a woman, steal, be an alcoholic, humiliate a harmless person publicly, pee on someone's frontyards - whatever. He is still the hero.
The personality cult that these guys promote is disgusting. In the book, by the way, Rancho is not a top scorer. Nor does he get the woman. They changed all that in the movie so that Aamir Khan comes out like some kind of intellectual superman.


mukund said...

Ram! Give up already! This is too serious a review of a random, entertaining film dude!!!

Ramiah Ariya said...

It was typed up at 2 AM. Now that I think about it, the movie was not so bad after all.

nishtha said...

Nice post!
I completely agree about the criticisms of the movie that you have pointed out.
Have written a similar post about how the movie should be enjoyed only as a work of fiction rather than being taken too seriously...

Kunal said...

Interesting insights like always.. I guess the only plot that u missed talking about is the student's suicide who gives up because he couldn't take up the pressure. Any comment on that?

Ramiah Ariya said...

Kunal, that was interesting. But I think the emphasis on that scene was on the fact that the Dean was not encouraging innovative thinking.
But if you think about it, we have all faced similar situations in college - but generally the cause is not "different thinking" per se. The cause ("3 idiots" missed this completely) - is abuse of power by teachers and even administrative staff.
In our college we all prepared project reports due for graduation. Some of my classmates did it faster than others, only to find that the professor in charge suddenly changed the format of the report. The changes were cosmetic, title here, what page comes first etc. The only purpose of the change (from previous years) was really to purely harass students. The professor announced he would fail anyone who did not conform to the new (arbitrary) standards. All of us had to scramble and some of us had to reprint the entire reports.
That kind of abuse of power is endemic in our society, if you think about it. From government offices to private schools, colleges and hospitals, our system enables people who get off on showing their miniscule power. Many times this power does not even have to do with money or corruption. It is just accepted that anyone with any power WILL exercise it every time.
THAT major issue was not addressed by the movie. The fact that our education system is fundamentally undemocratic and opaque was never addressed. Instead the movie seemed to highlight the issue of "bright" vs "mug-up" people - which is completely irrelevant.
The movie focussed on a personality cult than systemic issues. That is my fundamental criticism.

Anonymous said...

and why is the rote learner a south Indian with a bad Hindi accent and also bad manners and habits? Obviously there were real bigoted idiots in the movie team.

Amir said...

totally agree with this review, great job