Saturday, January 2, 2010

Three Idiots

From Three Idiots to a Nation Of Idiots

Sagarika Ghose

From IBN Live  

Before I went to see Three Idiots watching the film had become something of a sacred duty. Friends telephoned from Mumbai and hissed furiously, "You mean you haven't seen Three Idiots? Why? It's the best movie ever." Cousins cornered me at family gatherings and shouted, "When are you seeing Three Idiots? Its brilliant, its excellent, it's the best." With a chorus of "excellent", "brilliant", "fantastic", "the best" ringing in my ears, jet propelled by the force of family pressure I dutifully lined up on a freezing January afternoon in Delhi, and accompanied by a glassy-eyed horde who had no doubt also been dragooned into the theatre by armies of friends and relatives, we all surged in, breathless with anticipation, to watch Three Idiots.
And did Three Idiots the film live up to the hosannahs and eulogies that I heard chanted? Did the film deserve the tidal wave of frenzied applause that broke over my head every time its name was mentioned in any gathering? In my very humble opinion, no. Three Idiots is, for all its fine comic moments, a dangerous film as it legitimizes a scorn and hatred of education, sanctions wilful dumbing down and if cinema harnesses its immense power to such films, then very soon we will become a nation of idiots, and will have to hire foreigners to do our thinking for us.
The fact that the film is so enormously popular shows how eager we are to embrace mindlessness and how keen we are to promote a culture where education and thoughtfulness are seen as obstacles to enjoying the good life. Is it any wonder that an Indian Express Indicus Analyticus study gives us the bad news that by 2020 those holding medical degrees/diplomas will go up from a shockingly low 1.3 million to only 2.1 million in the next ten years. As a nation we are in no mood to study, and Three Idiots encourages us to throw away our books because today we are chanting the mantra, "the-system-sucks-and teachers-are-pathetic-and-who-cares-about-grades-and-the-rat-race-is- foolish."
Before I proceed any further, I must say at the outset that am a great admirer of Aamir Khan and Rajkumar Hirani. Aamir is a wonderfully talented actor, whose every performance is a joy for sheer energy and versatility. And Hirani's Munnabhai, was a work of pure genius, Gandhigiri and jadoo ki jhappi entered our everyday lexicon as words and concepts and the Mahatma was more successfully marketed than the Congress party has ever managed to in its 125 years of existence. `Three Idiots' too is a slickly made, fast moving film. Purely, as a cinematic adventure, Hirani holds the film together perfectly.
Chetan Bhagat's books are justifiably popular and notwithstanding the controversy over credits of Three Idiots and whether or not it was based on Bhagat's book Five Point Someone, the slice of Indian undergraduate life that both book and film captures is a reality familiar and well loved by so many of us.
Yet I found Three Idiots far too preachy, far too sanctimonious and far too much of a caricature. It lampoons and trivializes our higher education system as an unrelieved arena of bad teachers, suicidally pressurized students, manic success-oriented parents and evil money seekers who care nothing for learning but only want grades so they can get big jobs and Lamborghinis. Such a caricature is, as we all know, far from the truth. Although a liberal arts degree doesn't compare to an engineering degree, my own experience of higher education at St Stephen's College and Oxford University, is that it is an immensely enriching experience, consisting of many idealistic teachers and the excitement of new ideas is something for which there is no substitute.
Yet a film whose central message is "the education system sucks", "we learn nothing at our centres of excellence" and "teachers are unable to teach and only want to ruin students lives," is a rather dangerous film. Three Idiots disdains the rigour of study, pours scorn on wanting to better oneself through the sadhna of learning and instead seems to suggest that to be happy in life we all need to drop out, sing songs under the night sky and not bother with studying hard because studying hard is a waste of time. As a former IITian has pointed out Rancho, in the film mocks Laplace Transform, the equation written on the blackboard, as an example of rote learning. Yet without Laplace Transform, Hirani's computer would not boot up! This former IITian says he has never come across a teacher like Prof Virus, and believes that in its fashionable disdain for education, the film is dangerously juvenile.
Yes, our education system needs urgent reform. Yes, we need to relook at our exam system. Yes, we need to ensure that parents do not pressurize children. But in the pursuit of educational reform, we cannot allow standards of excellence to be lowered. India's IITs and IIMs must be applauded for the world-class minds they have thrown up, these are institutions that are respected the world over. Lets not start lampooning Indian engineers by showing them as students who deliver babies with vacuum cleaners. Let's get real about higher education, not engage in an escapist fantasy and convince ourselves that education does not matter. After all, Rancho could be a subversive because he was a genius student. For those who are not geniuses, alas, there are no short cuts.

About the auther

Sagarika Ghose has been a journalist for 20 years, starting her career with The Times of India, then moving to become part of the start-up team of Outlook magazine, subsequently joining The Indian Express as Senior Editor. She was anchor of the flagship BBC World programme Question Time India before moving to CNN-IBN as prime time anchor and Senior Editor. She is the anchor of the award-winning flagship debate programme Face The Nation on CNN-IBN. She is also a columnist for the Hindustan Times. She has won numerous awards including FICCI Media Achiever Award and Gr8-ITA Award for Excellence in Journalism. She is a graduate in History from St Stephen's College and was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University where she gained an MA and M.Phil in History and International Relations. She is the author of two acclaimed novels The Gin Drinkers and Blind Faith, both published worldwide by HarperCollins Publishers.


  1. HI Sagarika ,
    I suggest that you watch the movie again and with an open mind. The central message of the movie is not that the education system is bad. The central theme of the movie is that you should do what you are interested in doing rather than chase a degree while you are not interested in the subject. In the due course yes the movie does critise the education system, may be at oxford university new ideas , innovation was welcome. I shall take your word for that since you studied there. At mumbai university where I studied text book answers were all that got you to the top as a student. Me and my classmates/ cousins/ siblings had atleast one chatur in our class whom we could associate with. The movie also had one very subtle message which I guess very few noticed, No matter where you are and what name you have those want to make a difference and achieve something will go ahead and do it. Yes there are some extreme moments in the movie, but like in general news media you have to create some hype and drama around it to get eyeballs.

  2. I completely second Rajerndra's thoughts. The film is against the philosophy of turning life into a rat race and instead looking at it as a world of innovation and creativity. A vast majority of Indians have goth themselves educated in not what they love but what gives them jobs. There is a general apathy in the Indian social and education system for those who dare to be different. Hence only the creative and strong survive while a creative but weak at heart often fails to prove his point. I am not sure about Oxford but I guess most of the Indian education system is quite as what the movie hints at. Different thoughts and different ways of working are often scourned at. Ofcourse like in News Broadcast, Hindi films too have their sensationalising moments. But then bollywood movies have to be bollywood style.

  3. I agree to Rajendra's point of view...if someone is really talented and wants to make a difference then...he will make it anyways...despite or with the degree from esteem universities

    I think movies are extension of our thoughts and dreams in extreme form( and since it has to be completed in 2-3 hrs are made in over exaggerated fasion) We suggest to our loved ones/ or intellectually matched friend to see particular movie because we like the particular concept or ideas or display of human emotions we want to share...Emotions can be love , anger , frustration or anything depicted the way we always wanted to paint but cant find the exact medium or words.

    Sagrika you've mentioned that

    Let's not start lampooning Indian engineers by showing them as students who deliver babies with vacuum cleaners. I guess the message I got from that scene was " if you are genius then you show application of your talent in your day to day activity too. No one will deliver baby by vacuum...but movies are made to make some point with over exaggerated acts and thereby the actor acting in it are called Heroes! They do heroic and perfect things. We see handsome looking guy on screen driving an expensive sports-car in Switzerland with beautiful girl on his lap..then this masculine guy fights with 15 odd people...wins over girl's parent heart against all odds to live life happily ever after. No one goes home with the lampooning thought of anything like these wills happen in their real life scenario... but dreamt about it everyday which was fullfilled within 2 hrs and 20 $!
    I believe that we watch movie , we observe and appreciate things according to our belief (and not what entirely movie wanted to convey) I am sure we all will have different impact and message from this movie...few news papers mentioned about increased suicidal attempts after release of this movie...well thats the message few people wanted to receive in 2 hrs.

    After watching movie I did not see any thing highlighting about "the education system sucks", "we learn nothing at our centres of excellence" and "teachers are unable to teach and only want to ruin students lives," " Remember the guy who comes second in the college final exam , is ultimately a product of our education system and is billionaire now, Kareena is also depicted as doctor(by obeying fathers and system's accepted marker of smartness! doctors are something we Indian parents always want our kids to be..not sure being a graduate as MBBS really proves that you are smart chap . But I guess that is what our system's thinking doesn't suck..It just mean that even if you are not a doctor/engineer or IIT/IIM grad you can still be brilliant and achive something fantastic if you really like and inclined to something passionately). The point movie made , is that if you can come first in the are really good material. But even if you fail still can mold in to excellent material.

    In your opinion

    Indian Express Indicus Analyticus study gives us the bad news that by 2020 those hold medical degrees/diplomas will go up from a shockingly low 1.3 million to only 2.1 million in the next ten years

    And it's a matter of concern for you. To be very frank with you this statement it self tells me that you have taken completely wrong message from this movie. We specially Indians have preconceived ideas about progress..intelligence...based on bechmark and statistics If we have less numbers of IIT/IIM grads or less doctors ..its not a matter of worry.
    Even though the numbers of Doctors and engineers drop But the number of talented people will remain the same.. those will make difference to the world surrounding them.....and certainly both the numbers will NOT be effected by any great movie made in any part of the world.

    Vikram (so called successful product of indian education system who is not making any difference :)

  4. Mr. Shyam, I am not sure whether you have seen this movie. I am asking you this because what has been written in this article by her, is no where close to what the movie shows. So considering that this is in no way a actual review of the film, I do not understand the point of you putting up this in your blog.

    To Sagarika, I would say:

    Honestly have you seen the movie? I don't think so. This acticle looks to be a follow-up after reading some other article about the movie. If you had really seen the movie, there is nothing to point any cynicism. Moreover the story of the movie in no way has anything to do with IIT.

    This article looks to be based on Chetan Bhagat's interview about his book FPS where he has mentioned that the movie is inspired from his life at the IIT and Indian educational system as general. So is this an article about Chetan Bhagat's interview or the movie 3 idiots?? I fail to understand.

    Please do not write articles for the heck of it. People do read it and get influenced. I sure can say most of the folks who have supported your viewpoint have not seen the movie either.

  5. Everyone including you, me and Sagarika have a right to express our views. Similarly you are also entitled to have a view different from that of Sagarika.

    As a publisher, my job is to provide space for all shades of opinion on this topic.

    I have done exactly the same.


  6. a student of law at a Canadian institution...I saw SO many parallels between what the movie was saying and between the nightmare of this rat-race that I experience everyday here. By no means are Oxford and other Western institutions free of the same kind of rote-learning mentality. This is a problem that plagues all of us everywhere in the world.

    I am really disappointed to see your review. This movie in no way advocates for everyone to "drop out of school" and "stop studying". The point is to stop killing yourself for the sake of trying to please others and live up to THEIR expectations. You should LOVE to learn and use your mind creatively. THAT's what the movie is trying to cultivate. It's trying to cultivate a pure LOVE of learning.

    I think you are resistant to this movie because it probably makes you uncomfortable that you yourself have bought into aspects of the rat-race. It really sounds like you are being defensive. Nobody is saying all teachers or all schools suck. You are taking these ideas to the extreme. With all due respect, I think your reasoning is dangerous, not this movie.