Tag Archives: Sharman Joshi

Movie Review: Mission Mangal (2019)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

Mission Mangal (“Mission Mars“) got worse the more I thought about it. While in the theater, I rolled my eyes at the film’s outdated takes on gender roles, but I found it generally enjoyable. Upon further reflection, the enormity of the opportunity missed to present an inspirational, empowering story feels too big to ignore.

In 2014, India became the fourth country to reach Mars, and the only one to do so on its first try. Photos of sari-clad women engineers in the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) gained global attention, forcing people around the world to challenge their preconceptions of what a scientist is supposed to look like.

A fictional story inspired by that real-life feat, Mission Mangal feels less revolutionary that the actual event. The contributions of women engineers are viewed through a patriarchal lens that insists on centering male characters. Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise, since the man playing the film’s main male protagonist — Akshay Kumar — is also one of the movie’s producers.

Kumar’s female co-lead is Vidya Balan, whose character Tara is introduced first. She bustles about the house on the morning of a rocket launch, praying for success, cooking breakfast, and trying to rouse her teenage children. Her husband Sunil (Sanjay Kapoor) asks her to bring him a cup of tea instead of getting up to get it himself, despite knowing how pressed she is for time.

The launch goes awry, due to Tara’s misjudgement in her role as Project Manager. Her boss Rakesh (Kumar) takes the blame and is reassigned to a project considered doomed from the start: getting an Indian satellite into orbit around Mars. Rakesh tells the head of ISRO (played by Vikram Gokhale) that he suspects it’s his superior’s way of telling him to finally retire, marry, and start a family, but Rakesh loves India and science too damned much to do that. The conversation is a message to the audience that Rakesh will undergo zero character development during the course of the film.

Eager to make up for her mistake, Tara joins Rakesh’s Mars team. Their first problem is how to get the satellite out of Earth’s gravitational pull using a minimal amount of fuel. Tara cracks it by equating it to cooking: oil stays hot enough to fry food even after the gas is turned off, meaning their rocket need only burn fuel in intervals, not continuously. The ISRO board approves, and suddenly the project doesn’t seem doomed after all.

Rakesh and Tara round out their team with various specialists, including four women who each fill a spot on the film’s limited spectrum of possible female life options. Eka (Sonakshi Sinha) is single and eager to move to the United States. Kritika (Taapsee Pannu) is married to a soldier. Varsha (Nithya Menen) is married and pregnant. Neha (Kirti Kulhari) is initially described by Rakesh as attractive — gross, he’s her boss — but she is de-sexualized as soon as her colleagues learn that she is Muslim and divorced. She becomes a surrogate daughter to one of the two men on the team, Ananth (H. G. Dattatreya), whose own adult son lives abroad. There’s also Parmeshwar (Sharman Joshi), a superstitious virgin who gets too much screentime.

As the team’s timeline and budget shrink, they must innovate ways to get their satellite to Mars cheaper, lighter, and faster than any space organization has done before. We see how their careers and personal lives intersect — except for Rakesh, who only exists when in the presence of his colleagues.

Tara’s work-life balance subplot is the most developed and the most frustrating. Tara is responsible for managing her household by herself. Her husband Sunil is emotionally disconnected from his children. He refuses to do tasks he considers beneath him, such as waiting in line to pay an electricity bill. The film doesn’t challenge his behavior, instead presenting it as just another problem for Tara to work around. His position as head of the family is unquestioned, despite his unfitness for the role and his disinterest in it.

Sunil’s behavior fits with an overall viewpoint on gender parity that — despite its progressive veneer — makes Mission Mangal feel as though it was written by a Tim Allen sitcom character. Sunil doesn’t pay the electric bill and the family loses power, and it’s treated as a joke, instead of either a failing that jeopardizes the family’s quality of life or a deliberate act of negligence to get him out of having to do it in the future. He’s gotta be a good guy at heart since he lets his wife work, right?

This attitude infects the workplace as well. Rakesh views Tara’s ingenuity as cute, making her demonstrate their propulsion idea by frying bread in the boardroom. When she suggests using parts from an abandoned ISRO project as a way to save money, Rakesh grins to his boss and says, “Women, sir. They don’t waste anything.” There’s a needless fight sequence in which the women engineers hit some goons with their purses that is not as funny as the filmmakers think it is.

Kritika’s and Varsha’s husbands are supportive of their wives’ careers, but they appear only in cameos (by Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub and Purab Kohli, respectively). They aren’t in the movie long enough to balance out the more regressive characters — which includes Parmeshwar, who spends the whole time hitting on his colleague, Eka.

Maybe things would’ve felt more balanced if there had been more than one woman (Nidhi Singh Dharma) on the writing or directing staff. The story moves along at a decent clip, and the characters are well-acted. The space travel elements are explained in novel ways for a general audience, and Mission Mangal‘s computer-generated effects are decent. Still, the source material is too good to result in a film this mediocre.

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Movie Review: Rang De Basanti (2006)

RangDeBasanti3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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It’s sort of depressing that the story of Rang De Basanti (“Color It Saffron“) still resonates nine years after its release. The movie’s calls for change remain largely unrealized, a testament to the power of the stagnation it rails against.

Rang De Basanti connects the present to the past through the efforts of a British documentary filmmaker, Sue McKinley (Alice Patten). She arrives in India hoping to film a recreation of the Indian independence movement of the 1920s-30s, inspired by the regret-filled diary entries of her grandfather, a jailer and torturer on behalf of the Empire.

Sue’s local contact, Sonia (Soha Ali Khan), introduces the filmmaker to her university friends, who reluctantly agree to participate in the project. Group leader DJ (Aamir Khan), sullen rich kid Karan (Siddharth), poet Aslam (Kunal Kapoor), and tag-along Sukhi (Sharman Joshi) slowly find themselves maturing as they inhabit the roles of their revolutionary forefathers.

Further change is thrust upon them when another pivotal role in the reenactment is filled by Laxman (Atul Kulkarni), a Hindu nationalist who has a particular problem with Muslims. His integration is uneasy, especially since his role requires him to work closely with Aslam, a Muslim.

When a tragedy hits close to home, the guys realize that the work of the independence movement won’t be complete until Indian democracy is transparent and devoid of corruption. They take matters into their own hands, adopting the violent methods of their forefathers.

Although Khan is the highest profile star in the cast, his role isn’t necessarily the most important. This is truly an ensemble picture, with every role fleshed out. Every member of the group — including Sonia — has a reason to participate in Sue’s project. They each require a kind of character growth best developed by delving into history.

Sepia-toned scenes from Sue’s documentary are woven into scenes from the present, showing the way that the lives of these contemporary young people parallel the lives of young people of the past. It’s a theme that resonates beyond the borders of India. Every democracy is founded on a struggle that modern citizens too often ignore, resulting in a failure to meet founding ideals. We can all do better.

It’s unfortunate that the poster for Rang De Basanti features only Khan, Siddharth, Kapoor, and Joshi, because every performance in the film is superb. Kulkarni portrays a difficult character with great empathy. Patten and Soha Ali Khan are resolute, their characters developing along with the young men. R. Madhavan is great in a supporting role as Sonia’s boyfriend.

Siddharth’s role is the meatiest, with Karan dropping his jaded act as the truth starts to torment him. Kapoor imbues Aslam with stoicism, and Joshi plays a great toady.

Even though it’s not a solo starring role, this is among Khan’s best performances. A highlight is a scene in which DJ confesses to Sue that he actually graduated from college five years ago, but fear of the future keeps him hanging around campus with his buddies. The scene serves the dual purpose of explaining why DJ looks so much older than the others. (Khan was already 41 when the film released, not that this would be his last time playing a college student).

Where Rang De Basanti falters is in its overuse of news footage in the final thirty minutes. It’s tricky, because the guys take drastic measures in order to inspire fellow citizens to action. But frequent shots of news broadcasts and opinion pieces slow down the narrative. Every random college student who vows to reform Indian democracy in a man-on-the-street interview distances the audience from the main characters. It interrupts the flow of emotions just when they should reach their peak.

That said, Rang De Basanti is a surefire tearjerker. It’s a sad reminder that no nation is as free or equal as it could be, but it’s an important message. The work may be hard, and it may be ongoing, but it is work worth doing, just as it was so long ago.

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Movie Review: Super Nani (2014)

Super_Nani_Revised_Poster1 Star (out of 4)

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With its old-fashioned morality and hokey melodrama, Super Nani (“Super Grandma“) is targeted at female senior citizens. Yet, were I a woman in my golden years, I’d feel pretty damned insulted that the only roles the men who wrote and directed this film can imagine for me are that of doting mother, housekeeper, and sex object.

Rekha plays the titular Super Nani, Bharti Bhatia, whose family treats her like dirt. Her kids are sick of her meddling in their lives, and her husband, R. K. (Randhir Kapoor), is just plain mean to her. Bharti bears their insults while privately judging their life choices and accrediting their success to her prayers.

When her daughter, Gargi, announces her plan to enter a “live-in relationship,” the music swells and the camera zooms to close-up of Bharti’s face as dramatically as if Gargi had said she’d killed someone.

Bharti’s grandson, Mann (Sharman Joshi), arrives from America and can’t stand to see his grandmother go unappreciated. Against Bharti’s will — and with the help of a dreadlocked Anupam Kher — Mann goads her into becoming a model.

Let’s examine the problems here. Bharti’s independence is totally forced from outside, not generated from within. Apart from a few prayers asking God why her family isn’t nicer to her, Bharti is unwilling to demand respect for herself.

(Mann even calls shenanigans on Bharti’s piety, telling her that God doesn’t make miracles, people do. Take that, devout old ladies!)

When Mann generates his plan to help Nani get her groove back, he doesn’t draw on any of her life experience. He says, in essence, “You used to be hot. Let’s make you a model!” Cue some creepy exchanges in which Mann appears to have the hots for his grandmother.

Why not have Bharti succeed at something unrelated to her appearance? R.K. always shouts that her place is in the kitchen, so why not have her become a famous chef?

After Bharti becomes a successful model, she’s uses her Nani superpower — guilt — to shame her kids into apologizing to her. But her guilt trip isn’t strong enough on its own to convince them, and it’s totally ineffective on R.K. Again, Mann has to rescue his grandmother by shaming the rest of the family into respecting her.

So much of the movie rides Mann’s shoulders, and Joshi is just awful in the role. He shouts and overacts, heedless of tone. The only actor who doesn’t have cause to be embarrassed by her performance in this movie is Rekha. She’s tragic in a reserved way, and quite funny when she gets the chance to be. The haunted-house-old-lady makeup she sports before her model makeover is a joke.

Being grateful for the kindness of a mother (or a father) is obviously good, but Super Nani seems like a backhanded tribute.

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Movie Review: War Chhod Na Yaar (2013)

War_Chhod_Na_Yaar_Theatrical_Poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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War Chhod Na Yaar (“Let’s Forsake War“) is neither as good nor as bad as it could have been. Given that the movie is a comedy about a war between India and Pakistan, the fact that it’s not a disaster is something of a success in its own right.

War Chhod Na Yaar (WCNY, henceforth) avoids many potential pitfalls by laying blame for the ongoing hostilities between India and Pakistan far up the chain, and not at the feet of the soldiers on the front lines. The film blames politicians hungry for votes, foreign powers hungry for money, and news outlets hungry for sensational headlines.

The action takes place primarily at a pair of army outposts along the border. The soldiers on opposite sides of the barbed wire fence exist under an informal truce built on the playfully contentious friendship between Indian Captain Raj (Sharman Joshi) and Pakistani Captain Qureshi (Javed Jaffrey), who secretly meet at night to play cards.

Their peace is threatened when the Indian Defense Minister (Dalip Tahil) reveals to a reporter, Rut (Soha Ali Khan), that war will break out in two days time. They travel to the Indian outpost where the minister enlists Rut’s help in creating a propaganda video to be released after the fighting begins. The minister quickly gets out of Dodge, but Rut stays to find out what life is really like for the soldiers. She and Raj fall in love in the process.

Many of the jokes come at the expense of the Pakistani Army, who are portrayed as bumbling due to chronic malnourishment. The leader of the Pakistani troops, Commander Khan (Sanjai Mishra), is supposed to be played for laughs, but his character isn’t well-defined enough to really be funny. He’s a collection of character flaws rather than a character with flaws.

Another problem is that many of the jokes rely on Hindi wordplay and rhymes, and they don’t survive the translation into English. Likewise, certain jokes rely on regional and cultural knowledge that international audiences lack.

Joshi and Jaffrey are charming as the friendly officers, but Khan doesn’t pull off the reporter role. The soldiers from two hostile countries engage in a singing competition, but Rut doesn’t find it newsworthy enough to record with her video camera.

Tahil plays not only the Indian Defense Minister, but the defense minister from Pakistan, America, and China. The Chinese defense minister would’ve been recognizable in his army uniform and Chairman Mao hairstyle, so I could’ve done without the potentially offensive eye makeup. (And why are the Chinese minister’s two bodyguards African?) But Tahil is pretty funny as the American defense chief, who’s clearly modeled on George W. Bush.

WCNY portrays China and America as pitting India and Pakistan against each other in a proxy war. The U.S. gets off relatively easy under accusations of profiteering. China, on the other hand, is repeatedly criticized for flooding India and Pakistan with cheaply made products. The Pakistani army is so ineffective because all of their Chinese-made weapons are defective.

WCNY falls prey to a common mistake: over-explaining things rather than trusting the audience to interpret events for themselves. When the predetermined nature of the war is revealed on Rut’s cable news network, the film cuts to reaction shots of ordinary citizens as they take to the streets in outrage.

All the movie needs to show is the ruse revealed. The audience can figure out what would come next. The movie doesn’t need to show man-on-the-street interviews of random people saying how bad corruption is. We know it is!

I doubt that WCNY will inspire many other filmmakers to tread the tricky ground of India’s ongoing tension with Pakistan, but it does show that it’s possible to do so without being offensive. Now the trick is to make it funny.

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Opening October 11: War Chhod Na Yaar

I’m stunned that War Chhod Na Yaar is opening in the Chicago area on October 11, 2013. The movie wasn’t promoted in local theaters, and with mid-tier stars like Sharman Joshi and Soha Ali Khan in leading roles, I never expected WCNY to open here. Something tells me Besharam‘s poor box office performance may have had something to do with it.

WCNY opens on Friday at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 59 min.

To put Besharam‘s disappointing box office performance in perspective, we can look at the amount it earned per screen in its opening weekend in the United States. Besharam opened in 217 theaters — a very high number for a Bollywood film in the U.S. — and earned $389,000 from Friday to Sunday, for an average of $1,793 per screen. (Including Wednesday and Thursday returns, Besharam‘s total stood at $504,000 as of Sunday.) By comparison, here’s what other recent releases earned per screen in their opening weekends:

Through its fourth week in theaters, Chennai Express continued to earn more per screen than Besharam did in its opening weekend. Nevertheless, Besharam carries over at all three of the above theaters, plus the Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

Movie Review: Ferrari Ki Sawaari (2012)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Ferrari Ki Sawaari (“A Ride in a Ferrari”) is a cautionary example of the importance of pacing in films. This otherwise cute family movie is doomed by unbearably slow story progress and odd song placement.

I mention the strategic placing of song-and-dance numbers because of something that happened at the showing of Ferrari Ki Sawaari I attended. The title track — an upbeat number depicting a father and son celebrating — plays approximately 110 minutes into the film’s runtime, at what seems like a natural end-point for the story. As soon as the song started, everyone else in the theater with me walked out.

The film didn’t actually end until thirty minutes later.

The story focuses on a law-abiding widower, Rusy (Sharman Joshi), who works hard to provide for his 12-year-old son, Kayo (Ritvik Sahore), and his grumpy father (Boman Irani). They have very little money, but Kayo is a well-mannered kid with potential to be a world-class cricket player.

Kayo is selected to attend an elite British cricket camp that costs the hefty sum of 150,000 rupees. Given that Rusy spent every penny to buy Kayo a new bat for 2800 rupees, attending the camp seems like an impossibility.

A neighborhood wedding planner mentions to Rusy that she needs to rent a Ferrari for a couple of hours so that a groom can make a grand entrance to his wedding. The only person in town with such a car is the real-life star cricketer Sachin Tendulkar (who does not appear in the film).

The wedding planner promises to give Rusy 150,000 rupees if he can get her the car. Rusy visits Mr. Tendulkar’s house, hoping to reason with him. But when the opportunity presents itself, Rusy takes the car without permission. He intends to return the Ferrari after the wedding, but, predictably, things go wrong.

The premise for the story is good, and so is the acting. Sahore stands out at Kayo, performing much better than what is normally expected of child actors. The morality lessons about honesty, kindness, and empathy are meaningful and don’t feel forced. If the total runtime had been 90 minutes, this could have been a great movie.

But, at 140 minutes, Ferrari Ki Sawaari is way too long. Because of insufficient material, scenes drag on. The subplot about the groom who wants the Ferrari and his overbearing politician father could’ve been dispensed with entirely.

Vidya Balan’s appearance in an entertaining item number at around the one hour mark is all that saved me from abandoning the movie entirely. I later took a leisurely trip to the restroom to reapply lip gloss during one of the film’s myriad cricket scenes. Perhaps I would have enjoyed watching Ferrari Ki Sawaari on DVD more, with the ability to fast-forward.

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Opening June 15: Ferrari Ki Sawaari and Patang

Two Hindi films are set to open in the Chicago area on June 15, 2012. The Bollywood comedy Ferrari Ki Sawaari — starring Sharman Joshi and Boman Irani — gets the wider release of the two movies.

Ferrari Ki Sawaari opens on Friday at the Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a runtime of 2 hrs. 20 min. You can read my review here.

The other movie making its theatrical debut this weekend is Patang (“The Kite”), a terrific independent film that started making the festival rounds last year. It stars Seema Biswas and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

Patang opens in Chicago on June 15 at the AMC River East 21 and June 22 at the Golf Glen 5. The film’s website has a complete list of opening dates and locations, which includes theaters in New York, New Jersey, California, and a number of Canadian cities. Given the film’s indie status, it’s only guaranteed one week at each theater (though that may increase if ticket sales are good). Catch it while you can. Patang has a runtime of 92 minutes.

Last weekend’s new release, Shanghai, gets a well-deserved second week at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17. Rowdy Rathore carries over for a third week at the Golf Glen 5 and South Barrington 30, having earned $654,352 in the U.S. so far.

Other Indian films playing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Endhukante Premanta (Telugu) and The King and The Commissioner (Malayalam).

Movie Review: Toh Baat Pakki (2010)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Compared to many other recent Hindi comedies, Toh Baat Pakki is understated, for the most part. But the beginning and end of the movie fall back on conventional slapstick.

Tabu stars as Rajeshwari, a big sister seeking a husband for her little sister, Nisha (Yuvika Chaudhry). But she only wants the best for Nisha, who’s pretty, smart and considers teaching village children for free a hobby.

Rajeshwari literally runs into Rahul (Sharman Joshi), a friendly engineering student, as she’s walking home from the shops. She’s suspicious at first, scolding him even when he goes out of his way to return her purse. When she eventually realizes that Rahul could be a perfect match for Nisha, Rajeswhwari contrives to move him into her vacant guest bedroom. Then she invites Nisha over for an extended stay.

The plan works perfectly. Nisha and Rahul fall for each other, and Rahul ingratiates himself with Rajeshwari’s husband and their two kids. The family starts preparing for Nisha & Rahul’s wedding.

Then Yuvi (Vatsal Seth) shows up on Rajeshwari’s doorstep. The son of her husband’s uncle’s friend, Yuvi arrives looking to rent the spare room currently occupied by Rahul. It’s just temporary while his bungalow is being repaired. Because he’s handsome and already successful, Rajeshwari makes the executive decision that Yuvi is actually a better match for Nisha than Rahul. She tricks Rahul into vacating the house, installing Yuvi in his place.

Rahul, convinced that Nisha still loves him, undertakes a convoluted plan to get Yuvi to call off the wedding. No one asks Nisha what she really wants.

At its best, Toh Baat Pakki is a winsome romantic comedy. Tabu is spectacular in the complicated lead role. Rajeshwari automatically assumes the worst of people. Even when she’s being nice, it’s to further her own ends. She’s a force of will that can’t be stopped.

But Tabu keeps Rajeshwari from being a nasty caricature. She’s motivated by a sense of familial duty that has been warped into a ceaseless hunt for perfection. Rather than employing cartoonish overreactions, Rajeshwari responds to events in a believable way: a slightly raised eyebrow when a more promising suitor walks by or a furrowed brow when she spots the tacky vase she’s trying in vain to regift.

However, these subtle comic reactions are overshadowed in the beginning and end of the movie by dumb sound effects and cheesy gags. There’s no reason for Rahul’s plan to be as complicated as it is, except as a means to include unfunny bits like throwing a pile of saris on a nosy neighbor or having goons disrupt a wedding.

Early into Rahul’s scheme, one of his friends asks why he doesn’t simply tell Nisha that he wants to marry her. There’s no good reason why he shouldn’t. Rahul’s answer makes no sense, and neither does the end of the movie.

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Best Bollywood Movies of 2009

Despite losing a couple of months of releases because of a dispute with theater owners, Indian filmmakers released a number of terrific Hindi movies in 2009. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)

Dramas Kurbaan and New York addressed terrorism with boldness and honesty, examining the reasons ordinary people become extremists. Delhi-6 dealt with religious differences in a manner both compelling and accessible. American audiences will enjoy the soundtrack by Oscar-winning composer A. R. Rahman.

A live-action version of Aladin was a novel update of the classic tale, appealing to adults and kids alike.

Romance was, as always, a popular theme. Amusing romantic comedies like Dil Bole Hadippa! and Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani took a light take on love. Luck By Chance and Wake Up Sid, both of which starred talented actress Konkona Sen Sharma, took a more serious approach, addressing the challenges of pursuing career goals while maintaining a healthy relationship.

The best of this year’s romances was Love Aaj Kal. Telling love stories from two different time periods, the movie embraced traditional Bollywood romance conventions while showcasing contemporary relationship issues as well. The entertaining dance numbers will make American viewers feel like they’re getting a real Bollywood experience within a Westernized story structure. The modern relationships showcased in Love Aaj Kal, Luck By Chance and Wake Up Sid represent an important advance for Indian movie makers courting success abroad.

But the Best Bollywood Movie of 2009 has to be 3 Idiots. It’s a great comedy about friendship — with just a hint of romance — that features nuanced performances by Aamir Khan, R. Madhavan and Sharman Joshi. The jokes are funny whether you’re listening to them in Hindi or reading them in English subtitles.

More importantly, 3 Idiots represents a step forward for Indian comedies. Most Hindi comedies released in recent years (excluding romantic comedies) have relied on slapstick humor: childish sound effects, comic violence and chase scenes that defy logic. There’s certainly a place for slapstick in modern cinema, but I don’t think this type of humor plays well in the international markets that Hindi filmmakers are looking to break into.

3 Idiots has its share of silliness, but it’s shown in a more subdued, realistic way that makes the characters relatable. It’s easier for the audience to cheer for the guys in 3 Idiots than for the farcical nincompoops in a movie like Do Knot Disturb (my Worst Bollywood Movie of 2009), because in 3 Idiots they seem like real people. When they succeed, despite being a bit goofy, it gives hope to the rest of us goofballs.

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Movie Review: 3 Idiots (2009)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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The comedy film genre encompasses a wide range of styles, from slapstick to romantic comedy. Hindi comedies are frequently either mindlessly wacky or overly sentimental. 3 Idiots is funny and perfectly balanced: silly but not frantic, poignant but not sappy.

The movie begins as Farhan (R. Madhavan) and Raju (Sharman Joshi) get a lead on the whereabouts of their friend, Rancho (Aamir Khan), who vanished after their college graduation ceremony, five years earlier. The source of the lead is Rancho’s old university nemesis, Chatur — known as “The Silencer” for his chronic, quiet flatulence — who’s eager to verify that he’s become a bigger success than Rancho.

As Farhan, Raju and The Silencer hit the road, the movie flashes back to their first days at a prestigious engineering school. Rancho seems to be the only freshman not afflicted by the neuroses crippling his classmates: fear of disappointing his parents (Farhan), the burden of being the family breadwinner (Raju) and greed (Silencer). Rather, Rancho is at school because he likes creating machines.

Rancho doesn’t agree with the school director’s motto: “Life is a race. If you don’t run fast, you’ll get trampled.” This earns him the respect of Farhan and Raju, and the ire of the school director, Viru (Boman Irani), nicknamed “Virus” by his students.

During a prank, Rancho meets pretty medical student Pia (Kareena Kapoor). Unfortunately for Rancho, her father is Virus. But Pia succumbs to Rancho’s charms and helps him and his friends during a crisis.

The movie transitions between flashbacks and the modern day, as Farhan and Raju close in on their missing pal’s location. The reason behind Rancho’s disappearance — which is explained halfway through the movie — isn’t the focus, the friendship is.

3 Idiots is a smart comedy. Jokes are well-written, with plenty of call-backs to prior jokes and meticulous continuity. The material is well-acted, proving why it made sense to cast 44-year-old Aamir Khan as a college freshman.

The material is also universal, with few regional or culture-specific jokes. Non-Hindi speakers who stumble into the theater expecting an English-language film needn’t worry about not understanding the jokes. In fact, 3 Idiots is a great Bollywood starter film.

There are a few melodramatic moments, but they’re not overdone, as in typical masala movies. Those maudlin movies are lampooned, as when a trip to Raju’s family home is shown in black & white with a dramatic score, his poor mother and unwed sister slaving over dinner next to his paralyzed father’s cot.

By skipping teary-eyed speeches in favor of funny dialogues, 3 Idiots provides better insight into the nature of friendship and the importance of following your dreams than most dramas. Yet it’s funny throughout, making 3 Idiots perhaps the best Hindi comedy I’ve ever seen.

Note: The movie’s runtime is listed as 2 hrs. 15 min. It’s actually closer to 3 hours long.