Sunday, January 3, 2010

3 Idiots | By Aseem Chhabra

True Take on the much hyped movie 3 Idiots!
A few years ago a journalist friend questioned my appreciation of Bollywood films. He said that even though I admired works by the world’s greatest filmmakers, including Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, Pedro Almodovar and Wong Kar-wai, I viewed Bollywood films with a different benchmark. I would like to believe that is not true.

We have learnt to accept the
weakness of a lot of Bollywood films by giving them the ‘time pass’ stamp

We were arguing about Jodha Akbar. I had liked the film for its scale, visual imagery, songs, dramatic content and performances. My friend thought the film was a long drawn out melodrama and it did not measure up to world standards. I stuck to my position and, even today, I would recommend Ashutosh Gowariker’s grand drama.

The issue has come up again. Last week, I wrote a review of Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots for another publication. My take on the film is that it holds a lot of promise, but ultimately, is very disappointing. Readers criticised me for not getting the film. If the masses have loved the film, then why would a critic like me write anything against it?

This position does not bother me. A critic often has to live in a lonely place. It is a critic’s job to advise the viewers, but beyond that he/she has no control. A film like 3 Idiots, with all the trappings of a blockbuster – huge promotion, star cast, elements of comedy, melodrama – was bound to be a hit.

But, now I feel I am arguing with friends on my take on 3 Idiots. A dancer friend in New York wrote on her Facebook status that she loved 3 Idiots, referring to it as a smart and a perfect feel-good holiday movie. When I questioned her statement, she responded by saying that I had been away from India too long and so had forgotten details about the country’s educational system and university life. So, now we were no longer discussing the strengths and weaknesses of 3 Idiots. The discussion had moved to how much of India I still remembered.

Besides, why must a holiday movie have a ‘feel good’ sensibility? Lately, I have been hearing from a lot of people saying they would rather not see Precious – one of the best American films of 2009, because it is too depressing and bleak. I would like to believe holidays are a time to see good cinema and not just ‘feel good’ films.

Another journalist friend also told me she enjoyed 3 Idiots. When I asked her to explain what she had liked about it, she said it was a perfect ‘time pass’ movie.

This takes me back to my first friend’s comment.
Why must we compromise our abilities and opportunities to appreciate good cinema by giving credibility to ‘time pass’ films? To me ‘time pass’ is a rather dangerous term. We have learnt to accept the weakness of a lot of Bollywood films by giving them the ‘time pass’ stamp. Instead, we should strive for a higher standard, the same benchmark that we use for the best of world cinema.

Bollywood alone does not produce ‘time pass’ films. Hollywood is well known for its mediocre ‘time pass’ blockbusters, from 2012 and Independence Day, to the mindless teen horror films and more. But, Bollywood does produce an excessive amount of ‘time pass’ films and a lot of these films could be far better, if only the filmmakers would not sacrifice their artistic integrities.

India has the most prolific film industry in the world. While we commend ourselves for the recognition that Bollywood blockbusters like Devdas and Om Shanti Om have received at major international festivals, we forget that these films rarely compete for awards and are mostly appreciated for the gloss, good-looking stars and over-the-top melodrama.

Most of our popular Hindi language films still do not measure up to world standards. Maybe that is not always the aim of Bollywood filmmakers. 3 Idiots has broken box office records and, for the filmmakers, that would have been the ultimate goal. But, just imagine how much more exciting it would have been if 3 Idiots was not a flawed film.

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