For a film that extols the need to follow your heart and chase your dreams, 3 Idiots while being fabulously entertaining, lacks the conviction required for its premise. It’s almost always a struggle when you make unconventional career choices and by showing R. Madhavan effortlessly land a dream wildlife photography internship and Aamir Khan open a school of his own, the movie undermines the loftiness of what it sets out to convey. If it was that easy to be successful while veering off the beaten path, wouldn’t a lot more people do it readily? The thing about popular career tracks like engineering is the tolerance there is for mediocrity. You can make a decent living while being an academically average engineer but have you even heard of an ‘okay’ wildlife photographer? When making a pitch for being successful while doing what you like, how convenient is it to use an overachiever and a extremely talented photographer as your examples? It’s like those home fitness equipment advertisements which show ripped toned models sweating it out. Would you even think about buying that equipment if you saw an unfit flabby person using it on the tele?
“It is great to be able to choose a career doing what you love. It’s greater doing what you love and being successful at it, even if it means making a few compromises.”
The interesting thing about 3 Idiots is the fact that the man at the helm, Raj Kumar Hirani himself is such a great example for going against the tide and being good at it. Making headway in the film industry, in spite of hailing from a non-film background, while establishing his no-frills brand of story telling, Hirani personifies what 3 Idiots wants to say. It’s possible to follow your heart all the way to the bank. But in the movie, Hirani glosses over an inevitable stepping stone you need to succeed- compromise. You can’t always make the movies you like and expect them to be commercially viable. So, while sentiments and melodrama fit in beautifully in the scheme of things in the Munnabhai series, they are shoe-horned in at various plot points in 3 Idiots. While Sanjay Dutt was a goon with a good heart, Khan is a ‘holier-than-thou’ saint who selflessly spreads happiness. While Jadoo ki jappi and Gandhigiri were refreshingly endearing, Aal iz well is just forced. In reusing significant bits and pieces that worked in his earlier successes, Hirani appears to have compromised on his brand of filmmaking, keeping the box office in mind. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, expect for the fact that it establishes that it’s not enough making a career of doing things you enjoy, it’s also important that you recognise the need to make some compromises time and again to sustain that career.
On the other hand, Rocket Singh – Salesman of the Year, is definitely a contender for my movie of 2009. Director Shimit Amin and writer Jaideep Sahni, have shown the same integrity and honesty as their protagonist in making this movie. The movie focuses on an academic underachiever who picks a sales career because it best fits his abilities-of negotiation, persuasion and conversation. Having done that, he struggles to come to grips with the blatant dishonesty that pervades this wildly competitive field. Many people had an issue with the portrayal of actor Ranbir Kapoor as someone so innocent and unexposed to the ways of the world. But to me, the turmoil he faces is something anyone working at a corporate firm can relate to. We have spent our growing years exposed to the commonplace corruption around us and we don’t think twice before greasing some palms to get a job done. But, this is an entirely personal decision, a decision that one should not hesitate to take responsibility for. On the other hand, if I were expected to hand out some bribes to procure some contracts or pay someone off to overlook some technicalities at my workplace, I would be scandalised to say the least. It is not to say that such things do not happen, but, it is all good as long as I am far removed from it. Armed with a simple storyline, a powerhouse support cast and a lot of subtlety and restraint, Rocket Singh keeps you engrossed and entertained.
Even as I write this, Rocket Singh must have made an unceremonious exit from the cinemas while 3 Idiots is well on its way to setting box office records. In an industry that abounds with formula ‘masala’ movies and unaccredited remakes a.k.a rip-offs, both these directors are charting their unique trails with their distinctive story telling styles. As much as I respect Hirani for adapting himself to the vagaries of the Indian audience, I can’t help but admire Amin more for being unwavering in his vision. Be it casting established superstars or rising hot stars in out of the box roles, or avoiding audience pleasing tropes like reasonless songs and bombastic heroic comebacks, it seems Amin is making films exactly the way he wants them. I would be surprised and disappointed if he is going to let a box office failure change any of that.
So what is the verdict about career choices? You must have heard the the great Indian cinema love cliché; “It doesn’t matter whom you love. All that matters is who loves you.” This, then is the new age Indian cinema career choice cliché; “It is great to be able to choose a career doing what you love. It’s greater doing what you love and being successful at it, even if it means making a few compromises.” And for the rest of us mortals who have to get back to the drudgery of our day jobs, as I read somewhere (I just am not able to recall where in this age of information overload) “It’s just best to learn to love what you do.”