3 IDIOTS has already become the highest grossing film in the history of Hindi cinema, without adjusting for inflation, that is. With the adjustment, Sholay still holds the title. The film has been embroiled in controversy for multiple reasons—Chetan Bhagat demanding ‘due credit’ when it’s amply clear from his contract that he has, in fact, been duly credited; ragging in a Mumbai medical college that is supposedly ‘inspired’ by the ragging scenes in the film; the Tamil and Telugu remake rights having been sold for an astounding 100 million rupees; and the suicide of a 12-year-old Mumbai boy with failing grades who saw the film twice just before he took his own life. In short, since its release over the Christmas holidays, Rajkumar Hirani’s film has constantly been in the news, for reasons good and bad. It had also made headlines before the release when star Aamir Khan decided to don disguises and show up in various mofussil towns in a lame bid for publicity.
Amid such bombardment it is easy to forget that whichever way we look at it, 3 Idiots has become a cultural phenomenon—one that has consumed legions of Indians and non-Indians abroad in a way few films have done in recent memory. Does the all-pervasive reaction come from the fact that a nation fed on a surfeit of cricket and some truly dire Bollywood product was looking for some more feel-good fare? Or is it simply that Hirani is that rare beast – an unsung master of the mainstream who spends time understanding what works for his audience rather than blowing hot air up media fundaments to cover the holes in the product like his contemporaries? Clearly, the latter is the case. Hirani has demonstrated time and again, from his Munnabhai films to Idiots, that the virtue of a simple story well told, with an underlying social message to boot, will find takers in millions.
3 Idiots could well have been titled ‘3 Suicides’ for its connection to one off-screen and two on-screen (one successful and one unsuccessful) students’ attempts at killing themselves due to academic pressure. In spite of such a grim backdrop, the fact that the film still manages to leave the viewer walking out of the theatre with a goofy grin is testimony to Hirani’s command over his craft.