FAR EAST, SOUTH ASIA AND AUSTRALASIA

A few years ago my husband and I set ourselves the task of working our way through the IMDB’s “top 250” list of the highest rated films by users of the app/site. We worked in reverse order, and gave up after a few months after encountering a fair amount of dross, amid the gems.

I was never convinced the list contained the “best” films (though it is always going to be subjective). It struck me that perhaps the demographic that was rating films on IMDB was skewed towards young people (maybe under 30), and men, so it included a preponderance of (to me) tedious action flicks. If I ever revisit this task, maybe this time it would be a good idea to start at number 1 in the list rather than number 250!

Checking back at the list today, which obviously changes over time, I’ve noted one thing that never seems to change: The Shawshank Redemption is still sitting firmly in first place – and 3 Idiots also remains fairly high up, given the list is dominated by US blockbusters, sitting at number 80.

3 Idiots is a 2009 Hindi buddy movie co-written and directed by Rajkumar Hirani and set at an engineering college. It is billed as a comedy-drama, but I didn’t find it funny. I  have never seen so many men weeping and threatening to commit suicide in one film, let alone a comedy.

However, I liked the romance between Piya (Kareena Kapoor) and Rancho (Aamir Khan), which was lovely and fluffy and romantic, and the high point of which came with the Zoobi Doobi song. You don’t get that in Western films, which are all too often focused around cynical, damaged people (see, for example, the Silver Linings Playbook, also billed as a romcom).

All the actors were much too old for their roles as students, especially Aamir Khan who, according to IMDB, was born in 1965, making him 44 years of age on the films release  in 2009. And the film was really, REALLY long at 170 mins, making it probably the longest film i have ever sat through (I walked out of JFK 120 mins in, as I had to catch a train).

I faded in and out, but fortunately the plot was straightforward, in that it centred around the principal of an engineering college (a straightforward baddie) and his students (straightforward goodies), on a path to maturity and redemption. The slapstick and romance gave the film a sweetly innocent feel. I’m not all that familiar with Bollywood movies but perhaps this is a defining thing of the genre. 

I followed this film up with Taare Zameen Par (titled Like Stars on Earth internationally), a 2007 Indian Hindi-language drama film produced and directed by Aamir Khan.

I preferred this to 3 Idiots, although it shared the similarly simplistic narrative structure and lack of depth of character. I don’t know if this is typical of Indian cinema in general, or just the two Indian films that I have seen. Typically, it seems, for Indian films, this movie is long, at around 2 hours 45 minutes.

The plot centres on a 8 yr old boy, Ishaan, who resembles a young Freddie Mercury, with a big goofy grin and lots of imagination. From an academically pushy, middle-class family, Ishaan is expected to succeed at school, but does not, owing to his undiagnosed dyslexia. To these eyes, it is obvious that he has dyslexia, and his teachers’ unsympathetic attitudes seemed bizarrely unreconstructed; there are no SENCOs in this school. “I suppose you have seen his test papers with big fat zeros in every category” chides the boy’s primary school teacher in a meeting with his parents.

Ishaan’s workaholic business-dad duly packs him off to boarding school, where he mopes heart-breakingly, and has a life of untold misery. I must admit I did shed a few tears at times – the film is cynically designed to bring a tear to the eye. Fortunately for Ishaan a charismatic supply teacher, Ram, played by the irrepressible Aamir Khan, is on hand to save him from his fate. He recognises (finally!) Ishaan’s textbook symptoms and helps him with his letters while organising some kind of art day to provide Ishaan with a creative outlet.

Suddenly all the hitherto evil boarding school teachers have a personality change and become lovely, championing Ishaan for his achievements under Ram’s tuition. I did like the way no-one assumed that Ram taking an interest in Ishaan was indicative of underlying paedophilia, as would certainly be the case here in the UK. (Well, we did harbour Jimmy Saville.) And the songs were great.

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