Khan’s phenomenal string of box office blockbusters and their collective box office loot—starting with the Oscar-nominated Lagaan in 2001—has never been matched in Hindi cinema. Akshay Kumar may have had more hits in a row, but Khan is the champ in cumulative box office receipts over the last decade. In the wake of the huge success of Khan’s last movie Ghajini, the expectation for 3 Idiots were high—but no one could have predicted just how high. While 3 Idiots is far from Khan’s best film, (that honor would no doubt go to Lagaan, Holi, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak or even Khan’s child-artiste appearance in 1973’s Yaadon Ki Baraat) there is enough slacker kitsch and comic sizzle to make 3 Idiots a coming-of-age caper to reckon with.
The exact credit for writing the story is somewhat fuzzy. The choice is between the writing team of screenwriter Abhijat Joshi and director Hirani or 36-year old Chetan Bhagat, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker who is now India’s most successful English language author. Set at an elite Indian college, three unlikely delinquents converge to turn campus life upside down. There is lead instigator Rancho (Khan) and his sidekicks Farhan (Madhavan) and Raju (Joshi). Tirelessly dogged at every prank and stolen exam answer by a strict disciplinarian nemesis of an instructor (Irani), the dastardly trio appears destined to be kicked out of school when things take even more comical turns.
Producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra infuses the same fluid comic flair he scored with in the Munnabhai franchise a few years ago. The comedy is timed to near-perfection and Khan is strangely credible as a 44-year old passing off as a BMOC (Big Man On Campus). The funniest scene, which has single-handedly created a repeat-audience effect in some circles, sees our daring trio substituting choice sections of a Sanskrit-infused speech (which the speaker does not comprehend fully, but which the audience understands with bawdy, outrageous lucidity). Yes, it is that funny. Irani is marvelous as the academic antagonist and Kapoor gets her dues as the principal’s daughter who Rancho falls for. The re-grouping of Khan, Madhavan and Joshi pretty much continues their joined-at-the-hips mini-odyssey begun with Rang De Basanti.
Then there are the records to mention. Released on 1760 screens world-wide, including 342 screens in more than 40 countries outside of India, the $8 million entry has collected a jaw-dropping $70 million (Rs 315 crores) worldwide within 20 days of release, beating out all previous records. By the producers’ own estimates, about 60 million people have seen the movie across the globe—at an average price of $1 per ticket in India compared to an average U.S. ticket price of close to $10. With a more than $5 million U.S. gross, 3 Idiots is now the biggest Hindi language movie in the United States. In the United Kingdom, the opening day frenzy created by 3 Idiots even had it beating out Hollywood’s global juggernaut Avatar in a single-day Christmas Day box office match up. These numbers, surely, are no laughing matter.
Entertainment Quotient (EQ): B
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.