3 Idiots: Bollywood blockbuster is equal parts cautionary tale, maker manifesto, portrait of India

kareeena-kapor.jpgOver the holidays, I kept spotting tweets from Indian and non-Indian friends alike gushing about 3 Idiots. The just-released Bollywood blockbuster has broken box office records throughout India. I'm no expert in Indian cinema or popular culture, but figured so many happy pings couldn't be wrong, so I ventured out for a screening (at an otherwise struggling art-house theater which was this night *packed* with a cheering, Hindi-speaking crowd). Verdict? Yup, it's awesome, and the tech themes may make this accessible for those of you who otherwise might not make the leap to watching Indian films.

@robinsloan said it best: "It works as fun movie AND a portrait of India today AND a maker manifesto." The film is a cautionary moral tale about about aspiration at all costs, and a social commentary on India's educational system. The hacker-protagonist played by Aamir Khan preaches DIY tech education as an empowering journey to world-changing knowledge, not a shallow means to upwardly mobile ends.

Bollywood movies somehow manage to cram in more sheer total stuff than US pics. This one's no exception: there's a hot "wet sari" scene, a bathroom dance number with aerial toilet steadicam shots, a climax of of parental drama that involves comparison shopping between laptops and SLR cameras, an obviously fake rubber baby, and beautiful Himalayan scenery. Blogs, webcams, and aerial surveillance drones glide effortlessly through the script. Not once, but twice, a homemade penis-electrocution hardware hack serves for comic (and bladder) relief.

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If you're reading this and you speak Hindi, none of this is news: by various metrics, Idiots was the most-anticipated (and is now the most-successful) Indian film in some time. But for Bollywood noobs, I can think of no better first door to open. The film is in Hindi and English, with English subtitles. Yes, you'll miss out on some of the layered humor in the film's ample Hindi puns, but there's so much else going on you'll be fine.

Producer Vinod Chopra reportedly plans to make the entire film available for download and viewing online, for free, this March. Chopra is quoted in the Economic Times, a business publication out of India:

I'm providing this facility for those who can't see it on big screen and watch pirated movies. I just want them to discourage pirated prints. They just need to wait for 12 weeks and after that they can legally download the movie and watch it. Tomorrow if there is a facility to watch movies on mobile phones, the film will be available there but in appropriate time.
Bonus inside baseball round: the film is loosely adapted from elements of Chetan Bhagat's book Five Point Someone: What Not to Do at IIT. There's a big off-screen drama exploding around contract and credit rights between the author and 3 Idiots producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra and director Rajkumar Hirani.

The filmmakers' side of things is presented in this YouTube response video (!), but even more noteworthy: yes, Internet Hitler has an opinion, too: video 1, video 2.

Embed below: short promo version of "Zoobi Doobi," a silly and infectious musical number from the film that pays homage to over-the-top Bollywood love stories (and if I'm not mistaken, Singin' in the Rain.) Caution: earworm!

MP3 version of soundrack: Amazon. (Music by Shantanu Moitra, Shreya Ghoshal & Sonu Nigam.)

3 Idiots is currently playing in theaters throughout the United States (and worldwide).

Related/required reading:

1) Robin Sloan's thoughts on 3 Idiots
2) "State of the World 2010," notes from Bruce Sterling on why you should follow Bollywood stars on Twitter (item D in the list).
3) Here's the film's Wikipedia entry [CONTAINS SPOILERS].
4) This Variety review cracked me up, for one line only: "Crossover potential is zero." [CONTAINS SPOILERS]