While cultural differences exists, the dilemma facing any graduate (high school or otherwise) is universal. Where do you go? What's the next step? Are their prospects for all you have learned, or will life once again show you that spinning your wheels can be (and ultimately is) a serviceable career option. Of course, in the West we take our educational advance as rote. We believe that a degree equals the dream. In other countries, however, parents fret over offspring, pushing and pressuring them as part of an unusual combination of social status and retirement plan. In India, specifically, the drive to be number one often outshines a child's abilities or acumen. Instead, the demand for a good job and an even better position in life are all that's important. Oddly enough, the country's media has shied away from any critical complaint about this tradition - until now. The film, 3 Idiots, broke down barriers within the nation, becoming one of its most successful movies of all time. After sifting through its 164 minutes of merriment, it's easy to see why.
Along the way, we learn about each student's secret desires. Farhan would rather be a wildlife photographer, but his domineering dad refuses to hear such nonsense. Raju is embarrassed by his family's poverty and desperately wants to please (and provide support for) them. Chatur just wants to be number one. Rancho, on the other hand, is an enigma. Vehemently opposed to rote memorization and yet consistently the top student in the class, he drives both his roommates and his instructors - including Virus - to distraction. So naturally he falls in love with said teacher's daughter Pia (Kareena Kapoor).
From there on, it's up to the actors to win us over, and Hirani has picked some prime examples. For their part, Madhavan and Joshi have the harder roles. They must be decent without being doormats, capable of their own identity without melding into Rancho's often ridiculous schemes. Of the two, the latter really stands out, especially when his plotline if given a pair of potentially deadly denouements. As villains, Vaidya and Irani barely avoid the moustache twirling tendencies of such old school baddies. Luckily, Hirani gives them slapstick quirks (clueless confusion and farting, a lisp and a love of powernaps, respectively) to avoid the slip into stereotypes. Kapoor is a real force to be reckoned with, since she is a medical student/doctor, an almost established professional that can't be played with. Her relationship with a materialistic "ass" is one of 3 Idiots best subplots. That just leaves Bollywood superstar Khan to redeem Rancho - and boy does he ever. While Americans would have no problem with his "follow your bliss/all is well" mantra, he represents a rebellious rogue to the average Indian. Rancho doesn't believe in the soulless assembly line state of his peer group's post-adolescence. Instead, he wants to buck tradition, and the actor does so with cool and compassion to spare.
As it motors along, the length allowing all manner of interesting sidelines and subplots to emerge, 3 Idiots remains steadfastly a film about bonding. It argues that, without each other, Farham, Raju, and Rancho would never have survived ICE. It clings to the arcane notion that relationships forged in youth remain hard and fast even decades later. It drops in diversions (a baby's birth during a flood, a medical emergency, a suicide, a question of true identity) to see how our trio reacts. The title might suggest stupidity, but the meaning goes deeper than just "being dumb." According to the film, India sees all students from second place downward as "losers," or idiots. Virus is specifically harsh on the students, suggesting the fatal way out of their eventual familial embarrassment and shame. All throughout the movie, Rancho suggests that success follows those who truly pursue their desires. While a tad simplistic, it makes for a meaningful last act when Chatur is trying desperately to one up his reclusive rival. Some may view 3 Idiots as overstuffed and underplayed. In fact, it's one of the most satisfying, smile inducing experiences in a long time.