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Cinema, with distinction

 

Rajkumar Hirani may seem to have the box office midas touch, but his real secret is his ability to bring cinema to life with a human touch. Tareque Laskar gets behind the scenes...
TSI | Issue Dated: January 17, 2010
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Cinema, with distinction Most film directors would be happy just to be able to entertain. But Rajkumar Hirani is a different and rare breed. He takes on the challenge of entertaining, educating and perhaps even enlightening his audience with his work. In an age where even the entertainment standards are plunging faster and further than the neckline of actresses in item numbers, it is hard to find even a decently entertaining film, let alone one that delivers more than that. But if Hirani's films are any yardstick, then the success of the Munnabhai series and now "3 Idiots" proves that balancing commercial and critical acclaim while delivering profound messages without being heavy handed has become this man's signature and his forte. A Rajkumar Hirani film is a kind of parallel education by itself, whether you are trying to make sense of Gandhigiri or looking at the potential shortcomings of our education system. Hirani seems to have his finger on the pulse of the viewer at large and that's why he's always focused on making sure the preaching's not too heavy and the proceedings on screen never dull, remaining profound and playful in the same frame.

His journey began with “Munnabhai MBBS”, a film that resurrected Sanjay Dutt’s career, but more critically gave us all the jadoo ki jhappi. It was a surprise move from Vidhu Vinod Chopra to greenlight a comedy, but Hirani’s unique heartfelt style, Dutt’s brilliant acting, and Arshad Warsi’s unforgettable ‘Circuit’ all combined to give us a great dose of the best medicine – laughter. But behind the guffaws was the message that drew from Rajkumar Hirani’s friends who had studied in medical college. It highlighted the foibles of the medical system in a manner so heartwarming that the whole nation embraced Munna and his antics.

Next, Hirani set his sights on something even more ambitious – making the Mahatma and his philosophy relevant again. Thus was born “Lage Raho Munnabhai”. The real genius though was how his script managed to bring out the essence of Gandhi’s teachings without sounding idealistic and boring for even one bit. That a bhai would get down to Gandhigiri was the ultimate stroke of genius that made “Lage Raho…” a winner all the way, igniting a mini revolution in its wake.

And of course, now there’s “3 Idiots”. How is “3 Idiots” significant? “The most important thing about the movie is that it attempts to tell a story of self-discovery”, says Aamir Khan. The self-discovery was not just for those on screen and it spilled over to the audience as well, presenting a moment of introspection over the chinks in our education system. To be sure, the film isn’t merely an indictment of the system, as some naysayers are protesting. Rather it’s a careful juxtaposition of an interesting story with the paradox of the system – consistently refuting to redefine those round holes which young ‘square peg’ students keep trying to fit into. Noted film-critic and director Kunal Kohli tells TSI, “I really liked the movie and I feel it will have an impact on the education system in India…it has already started a debate.” Hirani’s films seem to have this uncanny knack to stimulate discussions and debates and kickstart action. Remember all those flowers and ‘get well soon’ cards sent in the spirit of Gandhigiri?

Cinema, with distinction The “3 Idiots” debate is raging in many corners, some crucial, and some, well, idiotic. The one that’s generating the most brouhaha right now is, of course, the ‘credit crisis’. “In all honesty, the film is vastly different from Five Point Someone" says Madhavan, who plays Farhan Qureshi in the film. (read his interview on page 52) And lately, there have been dissenting voices raising concern over the portrayal of ragging in the film. These arguments, though, are fairly juvenile.

The real focus, of course, is on the education system, and whether educators, parents and students alike need a fundamental rethink of their perspective on what education and learning are about. Says actor Kunal Kapoor, “The film raises a lot of important questions and is one of those rare movies that also provide answers. I’m sure it will force us to re-look at a lot of things and make an impact at an individual level.”

Akhilesh Agarwal who is from the 1975 batch at IIT Kanpur and currently heads a manufacturing company could easily be the man Aamir's character of Rancho was modelled on. In the words of his batchmate Arvind Gupta, an internationally aclaimed educationist, Akhilesh is "perhaps the greatest mechanical tinkerer I've met. He bunked classes all the time and pursued his passions – gliding, power flying, aeromodelling, engines etc." Cinema, with distinction “The reason why IITs do so well is because they do a fine job of filtering candidates and they get the cream of students for input” says Agarwal to TSI. He points out that, “the basic flaw with the system at IIT is that it is very bookish…there isn’t enough faculty with industry or field experience. Let me clarify that I graduated about 35 years back and things have possibly gotten better now. Basically, back then there was a lot of inbreeding at IITs; after B.Tech, M.Tech, PhD, they’d start teaching. So it was very theoretical. The problem with the IITs is the same as that of most Indians – lacking when it comes to application/implementation.” It might as well have been Rancho speaking in the film.

“A lot of people in the world are disappointed simply because they feel life is passing them by just because they do what they don’t care about at all.” says actor Himanshu Malik, who has a degree from Delhi College of Engineering, but decided to pursue a career in modeling and films because his interest in engineering “waned”. Asserts Madhavan, “The whole idea is to let the child blossom when he is a kid and not put the pressures of academics but put the pressures of education on him.” Thoughts, which right now are pounding through a million minds, thanks to the sudden draft of the breeze that was “3 Idiots”.

It’s fairly simple to decode the Hirani formula, but like Coca Cola, very hard to replicate. Says trade pundit Taran Adarsh, “On a personal level I feel that his movies not only entertain but also enlighten and educate and I feel that's his mantra for success.” There are those three words again – enlighten, educate and entertain. And at this moment, only Rajkumar Hirani seems to know how to create a perfect blend of the three.
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017