Happy Aamir Week Day 2! 3 Idiots! One of those movies that I have been avoiding because there is so much to say it overwhelms me. But no more! I’m not going to worry about saying everything, I am just going to say a little bit about one aspect.
I mentioned in yesterday’s Ghulam post how I didn’t really “get” Aamir after watching Lagaan and Rangeela. And then I saw Ghulam and Dil Chahta Hai and he made sense. Well, seeing him in 3 Idiots was like that all over again. Suddenly Aamir jumped up from “great actor and movie star” to “Unbelievably Impossibly Great Actor.”
There’s a lot of jokes, rightfully, about a 42 year old man playing a college student. But you know, watching it, it’s not just that I can’t picture anyone else in the role, it’s that I can’t even see the 42 year old man there! Aamir becomes a 20 year old again, it’s an amazing metamorphosis. And it’s not done with make-up and tricks, it’s like he just willed himself back in time to when he was just starting out. There’s that babyfaced little innocent, with the pure heart and unsullied mind, all the way from Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, brought into the present day.
No 20 year old of the present day can bring the same kind of purity that Aamir has available inside of him. And the character needs that purity, because he is a representation of all the hope and joy that is possible in a student before it is crushed and driven out by rote learning and painful study.
That’s the big story of 3 Idiots. There are a million other little things to discuss about it, but I’m going to ignore them! Today is just for rote training versus free-thinking. And for how Aamir is the perfect vessel for it.
See, the thing that is cool about 3 Idiots, is it takes the kind of arguments people usually make through love stories and makes them through college stories. It’s the same “kids should be able to think for themselves and choose their own path” kind of thing, only instead of a boy and girl running off together and jumping off a waterfall or whatever, it is 3 boys deciding to choose their own destiny in their career and studies.
(I was thinking of Bobby, not this, but I guess this almost works too! Only instead of escaping parents with their true love, it’s escaping police)
Either way is about drawing a line and saying “this is when I take control of my own life, I love my parents and elders, but I am not owned by them.” But while the love story gets all hidden in “oh it’s just a romantic fantasy!”, 3 Idiots is dealing with a real practical boring way it happens, not the fantasy.
Obviously, IIT is the best school in the country. Getting in is a guarantee for life. Study hard and you will learn everything and get a great job. How can anyone reasonably object to a parent wanting this for their child?
And how can anyone reasonably object to the principal of the school keeping up high standards? It is his job to make sure the students learn, and it is his job to make sure the honor of the school stays high so a diploma from it continues to be worthwhile. All of this is logical and reasonable.
The way this film treats education and career is similar to how some of the newer films are treating runaway marriages. In Bobby, or even DDLJ, the father was obviously completely wrong in their choice. It wasn’t just that the young couple was in love, it was that they shouldn’t marry the person their parents had picked out for them even if they WEREN’T in love. But in Humpty Sharma or Bommarillu (review going up once Dangal week is through) or even Saathiya/Alai Payuthey, the other choice is a perfectly good choice. It just isn’t the right choice, for these people.
(Strangely, not Befikre! In that one, the parents actually did know better all along.)
Sharman Joshi’s and Madhavan’s parents aren’t “wrong” for encouraging them to study and go to IIT. And Sharman’s mother isn’t “wrong” for telling him the truth of their family situation. Or at least, at one point they weren’t wrong.
The point is to know when to stop. I’ve been volunteering or working with kids since high school (Sunday School, tutoring, cooking classes, blah blah blah). And after working with all those kids from age 5 to 13, I can tell you, kids are stupid! Their little brains aren’t formed yet, they burn themselves on matches and resist doing activities they end up enjoying and complain complain complain about homework when it could have all been done in 5 minutes if they just started it right away. So yes, you have this little kid and you need to tell them when to sleep and when to eat and when to study and when to play outside, and if they object, well, you can just ignore it because they don’t know what is good for them.
(Like this! Personally, when we were little, our Mom used to read aloud to us at breakfast, and would stop reading if we stopped eating. Because otherwise we would just sleep through breakfast. I’m telling you, kids aren’t even smart enough to know they are hungry and should eat something!)
But at some point, they grow up. And you have to take a real honest look at what they have turned into and listen to them when they tell you what they want from life, even if it isn’t the logical, reasonable, planned thing.
Most of 3 Idiots is about how Madhavan and Sharman deal with the pressure and expectations of their parents and their education. But right at the end, and this is what makes it brilliant to me, we learn that there is a whole other struggle going on with the “perfect” Aamir that they didn’t even know about.
Turns out, Aamir wasn’t wise and mature and above all these things. He was below all these things. That doesn’t make sense, let me say it another way. What I mean is that he had never had parents, so he had an outsider’s view of the pressure and responsibility that comes with that. And he was a good 2-3 years younger than the others, so he had a boy’s view of all the fear and worry about setting up a future. His “outside the box” thinking wasn’t because he had broken free of the box, it was because he had never experienced the box to begin with. He was always so outside of society, no one cared enough to apply the rules to him.
And then there’s the flip side, the one who is so far above the world that they have never been forced to obey rules, until the tyranny of rote learning entered their lives. That’s where the second half of Aamir’s backstory comes in. When you find out he was sponsored by an old royal family, because their son didn’t do well in school, and therefore they sent Aamir in his place. Another family would make their son study, be miserable, fail over and over, and finally with great disappointment give up on him. But this is a royal family, so they just found a way around the rules so that their son could still be happy.
In the end, we have two mirror people. The lowly one who has the knowledge without the credentials. And the high one who has the credentials without the knowledge. And both are successful! That’s the true lesson against this thinking that there is only one right path. The prince guy was capable of carrying forward his ancestral business and responsibilities. But no one would believe it unless he was stamped with the IIT degree.
But this doesn’t matter because, while the rest of the world might care about his fake degree, his father didn’t. His parents knew that he could be happy and successful doing what he was planning to do, and they were willing to go outside the standard route to make that happen. That’s the ultimate lesson of 3 Idiots, that there is no one right path to happiness. You can get there by pursuing your passion for invention and knowledge, by working hard at the job you have set for yourself, or by finding the job that speaks to you. Or by following the same path as your ancestors, with a few tweaks to make it work in today’s world.
Which brings me to Dangal! This is going to be a fascinating story of outside/inside the box thinking. From the broad strokes of the plot that we already know, Aamir is going to start by thinking that he has to have a son to carry on his legacy. But then he will think outside the box and train his daughters instead. Great!
His daughters complain but, as we discussed when that trailer came out, their complaints are of the “kids are stupid” variety. They have that distinctive sound of kids who think this is the worst thing ever because they don’t know what hard work really looks like. It’s good that he got them up early to train, that he put them on a special diet, that he did all these things. Ultimately it gave them the tools to be happy and successful, as we saw in the later song.
But then the question is, when do you let go entirely? When do you decide that your “right” path for them might be right, but it is no longer entirely what they want? That it is better to let them go and make their own mistakes than to keep them miserably on the track you have set for them, even if that track might have made them happy in the past.