Recommended by friends, 3 Idiots is an extremely well done, extremely entertaining comic caper, with a big heart and boundless energy. After watching it last night, I wanted to watch it all over again, all 170 minutes of it. It had such life in it.
Netflix plot summary: "While attending one of India's premier colleges, miserable engineering students and best friends Rancho (Aamir Khan), Farhan (Madhavan) and Raju (Sharman Joshi) struggle to beat their school's draconian system, which, in their eyes, unfairly values grades over creativity. Loosely based on Chetan Bhagat's best-selling novel Five Point Someone, this entertaining Bollywood comedy also stars Kareena Kapoor (Rancho's love interest) and Boman Irani (the tyrannical dean of the Imperial College of Engineering)."
The film narrative takes the form of a search for Rancho by his two former friends, the college scenes played as flashbacks, and so ends with finding Rancho, and the fulfillment of his free-thinking and optimistic philosophy of "Aal Izz Well." The plot is unrealistic and inconsistent at many points but only a pedant would dwell on these points and miss the magical conception of the whole. Tropes established at the beginning recur with gaiety in different guises throughout the movie.
The most eye-catching of them is the pulling down of one's pants. It is first introduced when Farhan forgets to pull on his pants in his hurry to join Raju in his search for Rancho. It returns in the hazing of the college freshmen, to which Rancho refuses to submit. When a senior tries to punish him by pissing outside his dorm room, he is electrocuted by Rancho's impromptu engineering. The scene reminds me of Rushdie's Midnight's Children, when Saleem as the Budhha is electrocuted in the same manner. The pants motif concludes triumphantly when the three friends display their victory over their conformist ex-classmate by showing him their butts.
The movie is held together miraculously by Rancho, the engaging college-man and presiding spirit of play. Aamir Khan is a revelation to me. He was 44 when he made this film but he is thoroughly convincing as a student engineer in his mannerisms, gait and boyish smile. The portrayal is even more striking when he appears so different in his previous movie, Ghajini, where he plays a bulked-up revengeful recluse. I have just put a number of his movies on my Netflix queue.
The cinematography of 3 Idiots, by C.K. Muraleedharan, is highly intelligent, as is the art direction by Rajnish Hedao. The colors are not beautiful in a conventional sense, but they elicit a strong emotional connection to the scenes. When the two friends finally find Rancho in his village school, the ethereal colors are buoyant, expansive, paradisal and fantastical. The happy ending in which spiritual freedom and worldly success come together may be a piece of daydreaming, but, boy, does Rajkumar Hirani the director make it feel good.