Issues · movies

3 Idiots & Why We Need Writers Guild of India

The Review:

There was a pop culture greatness to Rang De Basanti at the time it was released. And Dil Chahta Hai infused a flavour of freshness and kick started the urban upmarket genre reproduced by almost every filmmaker in Hindi cinema today. Apart from Aamir Khan, there isn’t any other common thread between these movies. The zeitgeist sensibilities of 3 Idiots springs from the identifiable depiction of engineering days of almost any Indian engineer. It can be safely claimed that engineering and aspiring for it has become a way of life for most of us.

Rajkumar Hirani is a very simple filmmaker. Predictable but instantly likable writing and staging has become his trademark so much that we would like to believe that he deliberately uses some recurrent themes in his movies. The righteous  correcting the flawed, the practical convincing the emotional, the simplification of complex issues, the bride walking out of her wedding etc. Hirani is the only director today who probably comes closes to Hrishikesh Mukherjee  n terms of writing. As far as film making is concerned, today’s market doesn’t allow him to retain Hrishi-da’s simplicity.

The first half is masterclass in writing by itself. Of course, only if you discount the couple of unoriginal jokes copied from popular vidoes and email forwards. I didn’t care much for the them but they do bring genuine laughs. The college scenes are a riot right from the ragging bit to Chatur Ramalingam’s speech that’s arguably one of the best directed scenes in recent times that would merit repeat viewings on Youtube. At the point when you just think the atmosphere is going to turn melodramatic, Hirani gets into the shoes of a bunch of pesky undgergrad engineering kids and walks around in them. The case in point being the scene right after the threesome’s visit to Raju Rastogi’s(Sharmaan Joshi) home. Ask any 19-21 year old in college and more importantly, an engineering college. The ability to laugh at almost anything, the absolute chalta hai attitude and trivialization of issues are like bread and butter. It’s as natural as pissing outside a hostel room door.  Another of those great sequences comes when the three break in to their professor’s home so that Rancho can propose to Pia. The scene gets into a high point when they decided to break in and even do it, and maintains a low key until Rancho realizes he is babbling holding the wrong girl’s hand,  and reaches a high when the professor recognizes Rastogi which leads to their ultimate downfall. Even literally.

Once the second half twist is established, the film is a sine wave. The present tense punctuated with occasional brilliance but fairly predictable and the return to flashback greeted with applause. Until we reach a midpoint where the film completely falls flat. The childbirth scene exists solely to tell you “See this is how helpful you will be if you are not a product of rote learning”. Though it starts off with lot of potential, once you see the whole dramatization with the baby stillborn, you lose every bit of interest in the scene. Another stagy bit is Raju’s interview sequence. Isn’t this an engineering college campus interview? Where is the technical interview Mr. Hirani? You need not have filmed it, but a passing reference? And the recruiters talk like they are recruiting an MBA and not an engineer! That’s why Farhan (Madhavan)’s closure seems more plausible than Raju’s. The cinematic license seems more justified in his situation.

Aamir Khan deserves a standing ovation for his business sense. There isn’t any other actor today who has that kind of business acumen. He knows exactly what’ll work, what won’t and how to hard sell a product. And even sell products that really don’t have much going for them (read Ghajini). There is a suspicion of method acting in the way he meticulously plays Rancho. The swagger that he’s developed, the loose trousers, hand inside pockets, the boyish enthusiasm from Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander that he’s brought back with aplomb, all work beautifully. Kareena Kapoor impresses in parts and her best scene is the one where she visits Rancho drunk to give him the Director’s office keys. A very fine performance, there.

3 Idiots is not an achievement in terms of mainstream filmmaking the way Dil Chahta Hai and Rang De Basanti were. But  real characters, real lines and almost flawless performances lift the movie to a different level. It doesn’t have many high points where we feel elated or we are rushed with excitement. But we are made to care for the characters throughout the film and that single high point makes this worth your while and deserves repeat viewing. If not for the final half hour, this could have very well been another Dil Chahta Hai this decade.

The 3 Idiots – Chetan Bhagat Controversy:

I am not sure how well I have understood the issue, but it is an issue that can easily be misinterpreted. I did see the “Based on Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone” at the closing credits. Chetan is peeved by the fact that the  credits don’t appear in the opening but only in the closing credits. And basically, it means that Chetan’s name, according to him, should be right up there under Writing/Screenplay/Script along with Hirani and Abhijat Joshi who adapted it. Surely all this looks too amateurish to bicker over and what we need here is a solution to define the kind of credits accorded to the different contributors in different medium.

The only solution I can think of is to have something like the Writer’s Guild of America for Indian publications and films. Does anything like that already exist in India? With the way this issue has been played out, I doubt it does. Now sample this:

If there is no source material (novel, play, article, etc.) and the same writers receive credit for both the story and screenplay, the credit is “written by”.

The “story by” credit is used when the basic narrative structure was originally written with intent to be used for a movie (as opposed to a short story) and the actual screenplay had different authors. A shared “story by” credit is the minimum awarded to the author of an original screenplay.

If there was previously existing source material but the writer creates a substantially new and different story from the source, then the “screen story” (or “television story”) credit is used.

Finally, the “screenplay by” (or “teleplay by”) credit is used to denote the screenplay (teleplay) authorship if the story credit had to be separated as above. [link]

Now can it get anymore simpler than this? The original novel author is not left out. No matter how much the story and narrative structure has been modified, the author is and was the prime source. If not for his creation, the film would have never happened. Similarly, if Five Point Someone had not been written, 3 Idiots would have never happened. From what I understand, according to WGA rules, Rajkumar Hirani and Abhijat Joshi must be credited under “Screen Story”. Right? Tony Gileroy was credited with screen story for The Bourne series because they modified a large part of Ludlum’s original writing. With the increasing number of books being adapted to screen in India, it’s high time we had a guild of our own. As much as I like 3 Idiots and thank Hirani, Chopra and Aamir for giving me one of the best movies of 2009, it’s sad that they decided to consider the whole “writing” part their own, when it is not. How can we expect the likes of Sanjay Gupta to credit Hollywood flicks they shamelessly rip off from, when people of the caliber of these three fail to recognize an originally Indian creation.

30 thoughts on “3 Idiots & Why We Need Writers Guild of India

  1. Even I saw the “Based on..” credit!! But I guess, Bhagat did sign the contract stating what credit type he wanted..

    Similar is the Sarah Palin controversy, where she did sign the release of her jogging shorts image for a fitness magazine, but then the release was a open one.. Hence, The Week was able to use it again, irrelevant to the article…

    It is indeed a cruel world, and one has to be careful, where one signs.. :)

    Adi: Oh I totally didn’t know about the Palin controversy. But true that one has to be careful where one signs.


  2. Amir is a genius, and there’s no second thoughts about that. Loved his acting, his looks, and the constant lit-up bulb kinda expression on his face throughout the movie :)

    I didn’t even see the credits at the end and kept wondering why Chetan Bhagath wasn’t mentioned even once!

    Really liked the way you described the movie. Nice job!

    Adi: Thankoo!


  3. Excellently articulated.
    For the record, I couldn’t read past the first chapter of CB’s 5 point. I hence hesitate to watch the movie, considering that I am not hugely fond of watching movies made from books. Justice doesn’t serve both ways, except for a rare few.

    Original art of any form needs to be recognized right, and as “original” as it may get after its modification.

    Adi: Thanks! True, his writing is very ordinary but I think that is because writing as a hobby is so ubiquitous now. So people are not able to accept him as just another author trying to tell simple tales with interesting themes. He is someone we love to hate I guess.


  4. I read half the review and stopped. I’m going to watch the movie and read the rest, unless you confirm no spoilers.

    Adi: Just some minor ones I guess!


  5. The movie team fulfilled their contract. Its Bhagat who wants things differently.Thats the practicality of this controversy. On civil grounds , the movie makers can talk in press conferences that Bhagat novel as the inspiration , especially now when the film has become a hit, they can afford to be magnanimous.The issue will be over. Bhagat will be satisfied and the movie team can treat this issue as an errant child needing praises.

    Adi: It all boils down to the contract ultimately.


  6. Superb and meticulous review. I liked the movie. The acting was really good. Aamir khan infuses a boyish charm into his role which makes one wonder if he really is 45. I thought the jokes were very stale, though. But then, everyone in the moviehall were laughing. Whatever works.

    Re the controversy. What that dweeb Chetan Bhagat has achieved is an association of the moviie with his name. And achieved this free of cost. The movie people played right into his hands by reacting the way they did.

    Adi: Thank You Narenji!


  7. Wonderfully reviewed. I really liked the movie, despite the many pedestrian aspects I wish were not present. I guess the tendency of contemporary Indian movies to systematically disappoint has mellowed quite a bit the audience’s expectation of a perfect movie…

    Adi: Oh would love to know which aspects you thought were pedestrian. But I agree there were quite a few. And you should post more on this blog of yours:P


  8. I agree with you on that this was on trendsetter. It was a great light entertaining movie which did not require you to leave your brains at home. Yes, they overdid the still born baby and the interview but I guess most of us forgave them for it.

    It was a fantastic entertainer and I hope Chetan and others soon resolve all these issues. The guy seems to be in the news for all the wrong reasons.

    Adi: Yeah, of late at least, he seems to be in the news for all the wrong reasons.


  9. The movie was pretty ok in the initial stages, but some of the things were pretty hammed up and one-dimensional. I hope Hirani conveyed to all obstetricians and neonatal specialists to use the “all izz well” therapy. Ask them to check whether it works for cancer and AIDS too. As for the credit controversy, I think they are scratching each others’ backs to increase publicity. Chetan Bhagat actually told a press person, “Don’t take my word for it, read the book and watch the movie!”

    Adi: Haha true. That was exactly my gripe with second half. It felt so forced that it’s a matter of surprise they didn’t realize it at the writing stage.


  10. Dude,

    I havent watched the movie yet. Couple of my roomies here watched it and they felt they dint like it that much or perhaps they were expecting a more from it. But on the other hand lots have given very +Ve reviews for this movie.

    Will have to check this out.

    Yeah..reg the controversy part these guys like aamir and chetan should resolve this in closed door before this comes in we the people or big fight or devil’s advocate ;)

    Adi: Do watch it.


  11. Great review Adi :) I agree about the baby scene haha. It was the one scene that got a little too much, especially with the baby crying after the “aal izz vell”, but hey, Rastogi needed a reason to really lowe Rancho :P I didn’t even think about that engineering interview. You’re totally right too, I didn’t think about it. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie though… definitely the best I watched this year. I loved how it was such a perfect balance of comedy and real-life. Everything that got too serious had a little joke in it.

    Adi: Wow you haven’t seen any movie this early during release in a long time, have you?! :P


  12. Great review!
    Good I watched the movie before I read this, else I wouldnt have been able to wait until next weekend to watch it. :–)

    Yes the delivery scene, the baby kicking (ewwww! was soooooo made up) could have been avoided.
    But the twist at the end was sooooo unexpected, atleast for me!! :–)

    I think I want to say for a change the movie turned out better than the book. I guess its because the book itself was in 5th std english, aptly wound to make a bollywood movie.

    imho, I think CB should get some credit, afterall the idea was his, and I agree with what he says in his blog, it was not just 2-5% more 40-50% from the book.

    Adi: Lol @ 5th std english. True, the movie turned out to be much better than the book. But I wonder what were Chetan’s initial thoughts when he read the movie script.


  13. Hi,

    Your praise for chatur’s college scene as ‘one of the best scenes’ in recent times and post on amit’s obssession with T seems contradictory.Dont you think attitudes are related ?



    Adi: Nope they are not. Firstly, the issue here is pronunciation(It was more of ignorance wrt meanings than pronunciation actually). And over there it was merely spelling of a proper noun. The former is an object of ridicule, easy target for leg pulling and such in almost any community. The latter was a response to someone protesting seriously to something very subjective.


    1. Hi,

      I didnt mean ur post and the pronunciation ridicule in the film reflected the same attitude.What i meant was that you liked the ridicule which stereotyped tams ( i bet hirani would never pick up a sikkimese or bong if you consider his film and Ad history) while nevertheless and rightly giving a fitting reply to ”amit'” for T

      Hirani is just another amit.



      1. Sorry noticed this only now. A bongs’ hindi is not so bad to be ridiculed, first up! So Hirani hasn’t got many choices. And I think you don’t understand what The Amit stands for. The spoken hindi ridicule is more often than not in good humor, whereas the “T” thingy was not, from the events that spawned that post. At least Chatur Ramalingam was not shown sporting vibhuti and dhoti. How can it be called stereotyping Tam? But I think we agree to disagree here!


      2. have to agree with gradwolf here. Tamilians were not stereotyped in the movie…for all its flaws, that simply was not one of them. Making fun of someone for their pronunciation has a funny good-natured side to it.
        The whole ‘Amit-like’ behavior does not. It often betrays some contempt. We need to appreciate the nuance there.
        What Hirani did pick up on is that in many schools, you do find at least one Tam close to the top of the class (like Nagarajan Swami in Munnabhai MBBS)…and he is pointing out that it need not always be based on pure merit. Also, in a broader sense, Chatur Ramalingam actually represents the classic conditioning of a Tam kid…study well…get into IIT…get a good job in US, green card and so on!


  14. Good review, though I disagree wholeheartedly.. :D I kinda echo Juggler’s thoughts totally. Did not the whole movie seem stereotyped in a way that was mocking the audience? I had more fun watching Vettaikaran because it was blatantly boorish whereas this one germinated a mask to package the truth in a way that the masses will like. Now that is devolution from a certain angle… Correct aa..??


  15. Why doesn’t anyone write about how the movie did address ( though in a preachy way) the obsession with Science and engineering?

    Or, am I obsessed with something else :) that I keep on thinking on those lines?


  16. not having watched the movie, cant read the review yet.

    About chetan, i support the cause but the guy is making it so difficult. alternatively can look for a career in politics.


  17. Whatever u say gradwolf.I dont want to prolong

    ‘Also, in a broader sense, Chatur Ramalingam actually represents the classic conditioning of a Tam kid…study well…get into IIT…get a good job in US, green card and so on!’

    as if agarwal’s ,chawlas and garg’s in north indian cities are different



  18. Well written review.I agree completely with you on flaws of the movie well i would not call it flaws rather overdramatization of the child birth sequence (trust me it is not so simple as they make it seem in any movie though !!),the interview scene ,quite a few repetions which could all have been well edited to fit into a neat shorter crisper movie.All said and done it was Aamir’s movie.Did you know Bomman Irani got an award recently for a performance in negative role ! Come on grow up Indian audience was that stereotypically negative??


  19. An Indian Writers’ Guild is a great idea. In the meantime, check out the U.S. Writers’ Guild site – lots of free articles, links etc and very informative.

    They have a great magazine too if you can track it down – “Written By” – of course, totally U.S.-centric, but story, structure, characters, drama, comedy…are often pretty universal.


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