Viru Sahastrabudhhe and his astronaut pen in 3 Idiots
Sunday noon was spent watching the eminently enjoyable 3 Idiots at home. Hubby and I had watched it in cinema in India with the usual atmosphere – ceetees greeting Aamir Khan’s arrival et al! – and this was part of li’l M’s ongoing initiation into Hindi films. As concerned parents whose daughter has spent all her years in Hong Kong we feel duty bound to educate her with all things Desi – Bollywood, of course, being a true métier of the same. So, there we were, eating chhole-chawal and guffawing through the 3-plus hours when it struck me that the movie is a brilliant illustration of Plants and Payoffs. And what exactly is that?
Chekhov said that if you show a loaded gun in Act 1, make sure it goes off in Act 2. Essentially it is a foreshadowing technique wherein the writer sets up something in one scene and it reveals itself in another. It is a game of luring the reader in, and rewarding her later. It is an initial promise, and its final fulfillment. Depending on how well it is done, a plant pays off when the reader ends up satisfied with the story – kind of like the wholesome feeling after a good meal.
Plants can work in several ways: build a character, progress the plot, illustrate a shift in story, create suspense, develop a leitmotif, etc. 3 Idiots is one of the highest grossers in Hindi cinema and is the story of the pursuit of excellence over rote learning fundamental to the Indian education system. In 3 Idiots, the scriptwriter uses several plants that pay off brilliantly as the story enters Act 3, or the final one-third of the film, which in Hindi films is usually the last one hour where a build up to the Climax and the Climax itself happens. The fact that these plants are not gimmicky is the reason why they work. For instance, in the initial scene where Farhan Qureshi (R. Madhavan) is making his way inside the hostel, he is shown to suddenly stop to pet a stray dog and its litter of puppies. It is a small snippet where the writer illustrates Farhan’s love for animals. This lends credence later in the story when it is revealed that what Farhan actually wants to pursue is his passion for wildlife photography.
Another plant that works is Rancho (Aamir Khan) declaring his love for Pia (Kareena Kapoor) and stating that he dreams of her approaching him on a scooter, dressed in bridal attire, and removing her helmet instead of a veil. In the last few scenes when the friends track down Rancho in Ladakh, Pia does ride up to him on a scooter, dressed as a bride and delivers a slap to the google-eyed Rancho!
The principal of the Engineering College, Viru Sahastabudhhe – played brilliantly by Boman Irani – is a martinet. During one of his introductory lectures to the new batch of students he holds up a pen that he divulges was especially developed by scientists to work in space. It was gifted to him by a Principal three decades ago and, holding up the pen, he intones that he is still looking for a rightful heir to the same. Through the film Rancho, a brilliant student who is desirous of learning and disdains rote, frustrates Viru with his rebel thinking. Finally, on a rainy night, he is rusticated from the college by Viru. However, in a fortuitous turn of events Rancho gets to demonstrate to Viru – and the audience – how his reasoning is not just idealism or rebellion but is entirely practical when he saves the life of Viru’s pregnant daughter and her new born. The scene culminates with a tearful Viru bequeathing the pen to Rancho. This works on two levels: not only is it an affirmation of Rancho’s genius, it also underlines the transformation in Viru’s character from a martinet to a changed man sympathetic of other aspirations.
Another plant that I really enjoyed in the movie is the ‘Aal Izz Well’ motif. Rancho introduces it earlier in the film as a way to fool one’s heart and thereby build some courage to deal with life’s various vicissitudes, which include rote studying, tough Engineering courses, flinty teachers, pugnacious parents. Aal izz well also connects with an unborn baby – Pia’s elder sister’s – when he kicks inside her belly on hearing the motif. Later in the movie, in an emotionally-packed scene where the baby in Rancho’s arms appears to be still born, Raju comforts the aghast mother by saying All izz well, and the baby delivers a kick to Rancho’s chin. This could be gimmicky in the hands of a lesser writer but Abhijat Joshi uses it effectively to bring the baby to life – literally – and also release tension in the scene through delivering some baby kicks to an astounded Rancho that generate much merriment.
There are many more plants in the movie, so go ahead and figure those for your own fun exercise! Meanwhile, I shall go work on my manuscript and strengthen the plants I already have, and while I am at it, grow some more.