Sunday, February 14, 2010

Movie: 3 Idiots

I have always admired Raju Hirani’s movies.  Raju Hirani uses his movies to send across pretty serious message to wider audiences embedded with humor to compensate for the seriousness of his message.  During the whole movie whenever you begin to feel that a sentimental drama is going to unfold, he suddenly relaxes you giving it a humorous twist. 

This movie is about three engineers who made it to a top school in India.  One of them, Rancho (Aamir Khan) is not your typical kid.  His idea of engineering is different from most others, including his professors, and his idea of success is different from most students around him.  It’s a tale of what education should be really about.

It is a good story, good acting and a great message – though the ending could have been better.  The theme of 3 Idiots is something that I endorse completely.  What use is education if student just copy/pastes what is written in text books?  While growing up I used to love history and geography whereas my teacher consistently gave 45 out of 100 in almost all tests.  There was nothing you could do to improve it. After few years of such constant beating, in my last year at school, I challenged his ridiculous way of correcting the papers.  To prove that I was wrong, he took up the text book and corrected my answers to the extremes of commas and full stops.  He wanted the answers to be exactly the way it is written in the text books, and he penalized me even for a small deviation.  That was a good lesson for me in my life - Never to measure myself or other people based on marks and scores. 

It’s understandable why most kids are obsessed with marks.  In a competitive world, marks and scores can be used to evaluate a person and award a person for ‘excellence’ – whatever that means.  But there is much more to a person’s ability, capability and competence than just marks and scores.  One has to realize that eventually.  However, most people don’t outgrow of their obsession with scores and marks.  They measure themselves and their kids by the marks.

One of the most duplicitous things about Indians is their concept of merit.  They just don’t understand what it is and yet they want to bet their lives on it.  Any idea of reservation based on caste or accommodating women or locals for certain jobs based in preferential treatment is abhorred as anti-merit.  To Indians merit is everything.  And merit is nothing more than marks scored in an exam.  

For everything in life, Indians need an exam.  And they will go to coaching centers and mug up and rote down, and then regurgitate the heavily crammed and overstuffed brain onto the answer sheet, only to pull the flush button to clean their brains immediately after.  Two days after the exam, they have absolutely no clue what the whole topic was all about.

They have an entrance test for engineering college, for management school, for medical school, and also for kindergarten and primary school. .  They have entrance exam to select a good administrator, a good police officer, and even a good foreign relations officer.  They even have exam for engineers in big firms who are supposed to be building big things.  And they would like to be evaluated only through marks and nothing else. 

To Indians if something is not quantifiable or measureable, it is not merit.  If you get 91% in an exam, you get the job; if you get 89% you don’t get the job.  And that is merit for most Indians– the difference of 2% is everything.  That’s why most Indians get disillusioned in their thirties – because there are no more exams to rate people after that.

Rancho has his own theories about what he wants from the engineering school.  Rancho is interested in real and practical aspects of his education rather than just regurgitating the theoretical definitions.   He mocks the education system and the way it is taught, stressing on mugged up answers.  He is a tinkerer, he is a practitioner; he wants to get his hands dirty, build things and better things.  He improves on a remote controlled helicopter, then goes onto to build an inverter which eventually saves the life of principal’s daughter. 

Unlike Rancho of this movie, most Indians abhor manual work which emanates from our ideas on caste system which establishes the notions that to ideate is sophisticated, something confined to higher castes, while to use hands is menial, something relegated to lower castes.

The principal of the college (Boman Irani) is a personification of everything that is wrong with Indian education.  He measures people by what they can reproduce from their text books, abhor original and creative thinking.  He wants robots out of his students who can spill out the entire text book verbatim with a touch of a button - the very opposite of Rancho.

The movie also touches upon our ideas of what is Success. Many of us tend to define it through the eyes of others.  Many a times we fail to ask – what is that I want? Rancho knows what he wants unlike his friends who seem to see themselves through the eyes of others.

The Bengali babu adds to lot of fun the movie and also personifies the material success-seekers in our life.  There are many around us who measure success by the massive homes they buy, expensive cars they own, and the beautiful wives they get.   But then there are mavericks that don’t care for all those and go after the things they like; success comes to them, not as recognition, power or money, but leading a life that says, ‘you had your chance and you made the best of it’.  That is success, to some of them.  Rancho is one of those guys who didn’t care for earning a degree, but wanted to enjoy the learning, the building, the experimenting, the failures and successes that come through it.

In the current IT industry, I regularly meet engineers who measure themselves by Java, C, ASP, and many other programming languages.  When I define an ‘engineer’ as someone ‘who makes things work’, most of my audiences don’t get it, they still go back to defining themselves with the skill sets, the marks and scores.  When I ask, ‘forget all that, what can you build as a product or solution’, they get stumped. 

How about enjoying engineering for the sake of engineering and not get bothered by what we have to write in our exams?  How about building planes, building better scooters, building electronic equipment, making use of our engineering skills to build something great and better? 

I hope this movie makes some parents realize why it is important for their kids to follow their interests instead of concentrating on marks and scores; why it is important to ask relevant questions in the class room, to question age-old theories, and to become curious.  I hope this movie allows some young engineers to follow their passion for building things, improving things, instead of become plain xerox-machines for outsourcing companies.


  1. I,m sure you wont get many comments for this one.

    Good one Sujai,I loved it.....


  2. Sujai:
    Well argued article! I liked your comments on Lage Raho also.

    The main problem I feel is lack of suitable examples (of leaders) in India. We don't have many success stories of people who have attracted international attention.

    We don't many Kalam's amidst us. We only see people who study well, goto US, and earn a lot..Not many people have achieved success that (3 idiots) way.

    We feel that we have already achieved a lot by few Service-based IT industries who have made their mark in international arena. People are damn afraid of working with start-ups..

    Even in present Telangana issue, nobody talks of building new city. Irrespective of what one feels , I don't think building new cities should be impossible given today's technology within a span of 5-7 years.

    We look for readymade solutions..I think things will change when we begin to see more success stories around which involves changing the mindset of present youth.

    Thanks for writing this.


    Bravo OU girl has to watch 100's of girl students marching fwd against Para Military forces...except HMTV and Zee Telugu NONE other channels covered atrocities of police...OU turned into into Jallianwala bagh for five hours...students calling TV channels for help... hope in a day or two will find these images on Zee or HMTV...

    shame on you Sabita...
    shame on you Sabita...
    shame on you Sabita...
    shame on you Sabita...

  4. i enjoyed the movie a lot.. the performances by all the three leading characters were really great.. i especially enjoyed the character if chatur ramalingam.. in the scene where chatur gives the speech about the dean and the chief guest i couldn't stop laughin.. i was sitting and watchin it in my house at night and hearin me laugh the neighbors started shoutin at me.. there is a lot of sentimental scenes also in the movie.. in overall a superb movie.. i suggest that every1 watches this movie..

  5. Wow Sujai. Great post.

    I too saw this movie few weeks back, and it reminded me my computer engineering days. I was recognized by my class that I am one of the top three good computer programmer in the class but I always in the bottom of rank list of marks. My goal was to became a good programmer and I think I have achieved it. After my engineering when I went to job interviews, many of interviews asked me text book questions(because lack of real time experience) and I couldnt give them good answers(I know the idea of linked list, OOPS, RDBMS etc but it doesnt sounds like a text book definitions) one guy even advised me saying 'if you do not have real time experience, then you should be very good at atleast text books to satisfy the interviewer. hmmm....

    After reading this post, I feel like reading all other movie related posts in your blog.

  6. Hi Sujai,

    I've grown up in the US for the most part, but I always look to your blog to refine my understanding on what's happening in India. I always find your commentary to display a level of consideration above and beyond the way most Indians think. I've recommended your blog to so many people, among them my parents and classmates at my university :) So after stalking this blog for so long, I decided to comment...

    I think that this merit-grubbing mentality is one of the most pressing social problems in India today, and I gave a speech on this very subject at a national gathering of Indian leaders in the US recently. The response I received convinced me that change will only come from, strangely, non-resident-Indians and particularly cosmopolitan Indians back home. As NRIs we have been exposed to a different system of merit and motivation, one more centered on the capacities of the individual, and I think that ultimately it will be our responsibility to bring this system back to India as well. This sounds like such a pseudo-colonialist mindset :( But I am confident that significant cooperation from NRIs will be needed if anything is going to change in Indian education. The present generation in control is incapable of conceptualizing a different view.

    As an NRI who hopes to be involved in helping make this change, I must thank you for your wonderful blog and vital, crucially needed social commentary. Thanks to sources like your blog, I feel more informed in writing and speaking about India from my limited perspective :)


  7. Shivi:
    Thanks for writing. Thanks for the kind words.


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