A cynical engineering take on 3 Idiots (movie)

It’s not everyday that I board a moving bus to reach the movie theatre. Then again, neither do I get to watch movies like 3 Idiots daily. Ever since I watched the movie on 29th Dec, there’s been something about the movie that’s been bothering me. It’s not that I had any kind of expectation from the movie to feel disappointed although it had been getting rave reviews from many avenues. While the movie seems to have tickled the funny bones of the masses, it seemed to hit upon a raw nerve in me. And this has been manifesting itself in the numerous facebook status messages [1] I’ve left on the movie since watching it.

I read a few reviews and articles [2] on the movie that seemed to be consistent with my feelings of the movie being overhyped. But they too seemed to miss some points. So, here I have an entire post lined up taking on the movie.

When you have to mock, mock. Don’t preach.

A funny movie is fine and 3 Idiots definitely scored in that respect. However, it did cross the limit in my books on some respects, particularly on the poverty front (Raju’s family) and treatment of the elderly (Raju’s father and yes, even Virus). All this is fine if you are making a mindless comedy like numerous ones before. But, when you tread into the message giving territory, it just doesn’t go down well. A few explicit examples:

  1. The 3 happily trespass upon the director’s property, one of them into his daughter’s bedroom while the other two deface his property. The director sees the face of only one, and is actually truthful about it. Anyway, this act which would’ve landed them in jail is conveniently brushed aside and totally forgotten by making Raju jump out of the window. “Truth alone triumphs” is not the message from episode I suppose.
  2. And on the topic of truth, lying brazenly to your paralyzed best friend and playing with his emotions may not exactly be the best way to cure him. As far as I remember, even Munnabhai did a better job in such cases. Raju once again saves the day here by a prompt jump back to action and showing that he does see through Rancho’s tricks.
  3. As if one trespass was not good enough, Rancho and Farhan break into the director’s office to steal a question paper, all in the name of friendship. Raju once again saves the day morally here by sticking to his new way of life and tossing away the paper (how one can set an engineering paper that will fail only a select student and how actually getting hold of that paper will help anyone {as people who’ve written open book engineering exams will attest} is another mystery best left unanswered). Of course, the director rushes to the hideout of the gang and tosses them out. This is where mother nature, the Delhi electricity supply and the good old vacuum cleaner come to the rescue adding insult to injury to who knows what.

Oh well, at least they didn’t shoot some Indian minister dead and try to awaken the public. Oh wait….

To me, Calvin did a much better job at taking on the education system and I’d gladly stick to Calvinisms than Baba Rancho’s verses any day. I also couldn’t resist the urge to put this in:

Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn,
Wire, briar, limber lock
Three geese in a flock
One flew East
One flew West
And one flew over the cuckoo’s nest.

That’s the source of the title of the movie “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest”, which is definitely a no holds barred take on authority and systems. Watch it if you can and don’t expect to feel anything remotely close to the way you felt after watching 3 Idiots (I wonder how you’d relate the 3 geese to the 3 idiots)

Also, on the topic of following your dreams, here are a couple of gems:

  1. Bill Watterson’s Keynon Commencement speech from 1990 – “SOME THOUGHTS ON THE REAL WORLD BY ONE WHO GLIMPSED IT AND FLED
  2. Richard Hamming’s talk – “You and your research

It’s not like engineering’s going to ruin your life for sure. Why, I have even done a photography course here in IIT Bombay under a professor who did his engineering (again at IITB), but is into visual communication.

How old are they and what period are we looking at? They still blog in 2020? No new iPhone version in 10 years! I’m confused.

This was one of the aspects of the movie that really confused me and the engineer in me had a field day putting together the timelines and ages. One thing I’m sure of is that the movie starts off in the future, somewhere around 2020. This follows from the fact that in the flashback people are seen using mobile phones, youtube, wireless internet etc and that would set the flashback in the present period. Ok, granted that this is not a sci-fi movie, but still, Rancho did file those 400 patents…

As for the characters ages, nothing out of the ordinary, but a couple of characters come of as oldies, notably Suhas and Pia. As per the flashback, Pia’s supposed to be a doctor engaged to Suhas. That would put her in the mid 20’s and Suhas in the mid to late 20’s given his Management degree and foreign work location (he must have worked abroad for a while or inherited a fortune, otherwise I don’t see anyone gifting their fiancee’s watches worth Rs 4 lakhs). So, this means the following:

  1. An 18 year old was romancing a woman in her mid 20’s. In fact by the time Rancho graduated, she’d be nearing 30 at least.
  2. The doctor and the manager, i.e., Pia and Suhas waited till they were over 40 (or at least Suhas was) to tie the knot. Now that’s dedication for you. I think the director missed a trick here, and the love story plot should have been on these 2…

That was quite a trip

Yes, I know, it leads up to Leh and not Ladakh. Still, that was quite an impromptu trip – over 1000 km lasting at least 18 hours.

And no geeky post can be complete without an xkcd reference. Too bad the characters in 3 Idiots didn’t have this kind of an attitude:

You should start giving out 'E's so I can spell FACADE or DEFACED.


[1] A list of all the 3 Idiots related facebook status updates in reverse chronological order:

  1. Did Chetan Bhagat do to the 3 Idiots with his blog post what Rancho did to Suhas with the green chutney?
  2. 3 Idiots is a case of bad credit… or is it credit risk gone wrong?
  3. Some 3 Idiots Math: P (5% < Length of 3 Idiots taken from FPS < 70%) = 99.9966%
  4. More 3 Idiots: Always nice to have a simmering reality show to go with a movie… That too for free.
  5. ICE:IIT::Ladakh:USA
  6. 3 Idiots had its heart in the right place no doubt. Too bad I couldn’t trace its brain…
  7. Avatar appealed a lot more to the engineer in me than 3 Idiots
  8. Lessons from 3 Idiots: 1. Directors should have their offices on the ground floor. 2. Engineers are in serious need of a suicide hotline. 3. Doctors should always carry a vacuum cleaner with them. 4. If you are an MBA grad working abroad, then don’t wait till mid to late 30s to get married, or else your bride may run away to Ladakh to ride a scooter. 5. The Airtel network is better around a remote bridge up north than in the IITB campus & at home in Bangalore.
    6. Pencil wood is also flammable in high oxygen environments & so that’s another factor to worry about – http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fact-or-fiction-nasa-spen

[2] Excerpts from the reviews and articles on 3 Idiots:

Rajeev Masand’s review:

Going home after watching 3 Idiots I felt like I’d just been to my favorite restaurant only to be a tad under-whelmed by their signature dish. It was a satisfying meal, don’t get me wrong, but not the best meal I’d been expecting.

The film, in the end, is a broad entertainer that plays to the gallery, well-intentioned but sadly muddled.

Apurv Nagpal’s review:

I wish life was as simple as Rancho made out. I wish it was as easy to top an engineering college, life’s issues resolved themselves as easily as shown in the film. The second half, which had a surprise identity crisis thrown in, raised some problems which it was implausible that were not discovered / resolved earlier. But the humour / fun keeps you going through it all.

My father said after watching it that if you’re willing to suspend disbelief, its an enjoyable film. That’s a pretty fair way of putting it, after all, we do the same for Bond films and a lot of action thrillers. Its just that I didn’t expect to be doing it for a rom com set in an engineering college….

“From Three Idiots to a Nation Of Idiots” by Sagarika Ghose. The last two paragraphs summed things up quite nicely:

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.

Update (6/1): Missed out the webcomic review.

Update (12/1): Just came across this fantastic contraption that is bound to bring back memories of our dear friend Lobo from the movie. Too bad he didn’t have an iPhone, otherwise even Virus might have been persuaded. Anyway, check out the video of this iPhone controlled wi-fi quadricopter.

links for 2010-01-02