Bollywood, Hollywood and the Globalization of Socially-conscious Film: A Review of 3 Idiots

Starring world-renowned Indian actor-activist Aamir Khan, 3 Idiots follows Rancho (Khan), Farhan (R. Madhavan) and Raju (Sharman Joshi), students at a draconian engineering school who challenge the conventional systems of Indian education. To Americans, the setup is comparable to a “slobs vs. snobs” college comedy along the lines of Animal House, but 3 Idiots sets itself apart by being a firm condemnation of the contemporary Indian education system—one criticized for its constrictive and stressful nature often blamed for increasing student suicides (an average of 28 per day as of 2018). When engineering student Joy Lobo (Ali Fazal) takes his own life due to academic pressure, the titular “idiots,” led by Rancho, embark upon a series of socially conscious hijinks and pranks to expose the absurdity of an education system more concerned with economic success than passion, creativity and life itself.

The film is filled with melodrama, comedy and romance for its nearly three-hour runtime, but it never loses sight of its social significance—it is a perfect blend of entertainment and underlying values. Its success speaks for itself, too: the film was the highest-grossing Hindi-language film of all time during its initial release, and it played a huge role in introducing Bollywood cinema to China, where Aamir Khan is now a household name. But how well do these ideas come across on screen for an American audience?

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