“The Three Idiots” and I

The Making of an “Idiot”:

I have kept away from the reviews of “3 idiots” as I always do when I plan to see a particular movie; it has been a few weeks since the movie was released. While I could keep myself off the printed reviews, I could not prevent my friends’ and colleagues’ impromptu reviews and the masses of unsolicited emails. Not to mention the recaps of the movie from my sons whose friends had seen the movie in the very first weekend while the family kept away from it as son-the-elder was writing his 10th pre-boards and we decided to abstain from movies in that period. (Now, having seen the movie, I think I was championing the very system the film was trying to denounce). May be I should have allowed my elder son to keep practicing on his fledgling guitar knowledge or his general mastery in computer games instead of focusing on academics.


I have been a product of a system very similar to that of Imperial College of Engineering, the Institute of technology of Banaras Hindu University (IT-BHU, Varanasi). Not one of the IITs, but it was then one of the only two colleges outside the (then) five IITs which admitted students based on the much awe-inspiring JEE, the great IIT Joint Entrance Exam.


Those days, for a reasonably bright student in a middle-class family, there were just two options for further studies, engineering or medicine. Arts and commerce were not in consideration. Commerce, maybe, if you were from a business family or a family of Cost Accountants and Chartered Accountants. Arts was the last resort for all, though your parents would conceal their general disappointment by telling all those who would care to listen that their child was aiming for the IAS- that Holy Grail for the middle-class families. The large majority could at best hope to become a probationary officer in a scheduled bank. Most landed up learning typing/ stenography and hoping to become a clerk somewhere. Courses like Computer Applications (BCA, MCA), Journalism, Hospitality, Aviation et al just did not exist!

Coming now to selection of engineering versus medicine: it was mostly a negative choice; if you did not like- or did not do well in- Maths, you were destined to pursue medical entrance. Likewise, lack of fondness for Biology made you pursue the engineering stream if you were otherwise a bright chap.

However, like Madhavan who wanted to be a wild-life photographer, I had these romantic notions of being a journalist. My father, a college professor, on realizing that I doth protest too much, plotted with my elder brother and sat me down for some “advice”. They convinced me into pursuing preparations for the engineering stream. They remarked that to be a successful in life- even as a journalist- I needed to have intelligence. That was a motherhood statement, I had to agree. If one exam does prove relative intelligence, they continued, it is the JEE. That kind of sealed my “fate”, as it were. If thought I was intelligent I needed to prove to my family and the world at large, that I indeed was brainy. That made sense to me and I decided to take a shy at the much-feared JEE.

Pitaji was a Hindi professor and he had no idea about matters-science. But he knew a trick-or-two about education. He consulted his colleagues in the sciences departments of his college and was advised that whatever I may want to pursue in life, excellence in mathematics was essential. “Santosh”, they advised, “needs to be a year ahead of his class in math.” So, off I was, attending tuition classes in trigonometry while my friends were struggling with algebra. I was learning Calculus while my classmates were learning the rudiments of sin squared+ cos squared= 1. I hated all this. I even bunked a few of these classes to see the latest film releases.

With some hard work and lots of luck, I did pass the JEE. Never mind the rank. I had the consolation of being in the “exalted” list of something like 2000 qualifiers from among 1.5 lakh applicants. I do not know the stats now, the number of applicants has increased manifolds since, and so has the number of IIT seats as there are many more IITs now. The ratio remains somewhat unchanged even now.


The Myth of Rancho, the Great:

I have a fundamental problem with the character of Rancho. I do not agree with the premise that a Rancho can be a comfortable topper without investing time and effort in academics. Sure, Rancho has a thing for machines and can tear them apart and fix them back. Sure he can get the aeroplane-like contraption to fly. But topping the class? I have my doubts. The bindaas Ranchos I have seen during my five years of engineering were at their  best middling in academics or often at the bottom of the class. A true engineer is more than someone who can repair machines, there is a lot more to engineering than just fixing nuts and bolts in the right places. You are not training at the local polytechnic to be a mere mechanic.

(I have one more crib with Rancho, he had the IQ of Einstein- or maybe more- and also was a great friend. He should have realized that his two room-mates did not have matching IQs and should have advised them to pack-in some studies instead of indulging in sundry extra-curricular activities all the time.)

The guys in my Institute who really did well academically were a mix of fun and studies. Of the two toppers in my class, one was into movies of all types while the other was a solidly-built football half-back. The rival teams dreaded him! Sure they studied, but not at the expense of fun. The film guy, by the way, is now a global nano-material scientist with tons of papers published in the coveted journal “Nature”. But in no way I can describe him as a uni-dimensional character, a nerd. The topper in the batch senior to ours was an ace drummer and the Institute cricket captain. And he too studied hard.

Of course, there were enough Chatur’s lurking around, but I cannot remember anyone of these ever making it to the top of the class. Rare was a nerd who topped. To that extent I agree with the portrayal of the character.

The fact remains that the Institute was a great place to gain knowledge and meet and make friends with some supremely talented folks. Music, theater, sports, arcane hobbies; the range on display was breath-taking. A few did kind of drift-off and lose all sense of perspective (I have known seniors who spent 7-8 years to get their 5-year engineering degree.) But most students were intelligent folks who managed to mix work and fun. After all, these were some of the brightest students of their times who occasionally indulged their sundry other interests with like-minded folks.

Like I mentioned earlier, I had no great interest in engineering but having qualified for studying at the Institute I made sure my grades were reasonably healthy through those five years. I may not have been in the top quartile, but what-the-hell, I had my share of fun. Directing plays, editing the campus magazine for a couple of years, picking up cryptic crosswords and going on- what some considered crazy- a 800 km cycle trip from Varanasi to Delhi. I never aspired to top the class, not that aspiring would have helped given the general IQ levels floating around. But I had my fun and passed out much richer in terms of skills learnt, friends made, and generally knowing a little bit more about what all a human can do. And by the way, my CGPA was Ok and I had a coveted campus job as well in the bag when I graduated. It is another matter than I was fortunate enough not to take up the job.

But that is another story!

9 Responses to “The Three Idiots” and I

  1. yayaver says:

    I like your point of view about 3 idiots and quite agree that most students at ITBHU were/are intelligent folks who mixed work and fun. Nice to read that a parallel side exist in every engineer (like yours aspiration to become journalist)!!
    And the other story of not taking job, will love to read it on your blog.

  2. Rajesh Sethi says:

    Santosh: Beautiful, like everything else you write. I was reminded of the 800km Varanasi Delhi cycle trip we did with the amazing NCC boss-man, Satish Mittal. Thank you for bringing back that memory. Regards, Rajesh Sethi, Bangkok

  3. Vijay Sambrani says:

    Dear Santosh,

    It is a very well written piece and I am sure many parents must have felt guilty of “forcing” their children to pursue academics over the child’s genuine interests.

    Now let me take issue with some parts of the article , especially the “myth” of Rancho.

    My take on the character of Rancho is :

    Because of limitations of time, the film makers did not show that he studied

    He must have been studying…….also , since they show that , when he was a school boy, he was able to crack problems of the senior class.

    His friends were actually bright ( otherwise they wont hv got into the tough Imperial College in the first place), hence he need not have “goaded” them into studying.

    Also , cinematically, showing them studying is more boring than showing them playing pranks !!!!.

    When most of my school class mates saw the movie, they immediately identified “Rancho” with one of our classmate : Rajasekhar Hiremath who almost fits the character to a T .


    He is in Bangalore and his E-CHRAKHA has now been endorsed by Sonia Gandhi and is a “must” at every Congress Exhibition.

    He has been awarded the President’s Medal TWICE and he is a serial innovator.

    He was easily the MOST MISCHEVIOUS boy in our class .

    He also got very high grades in College.

    Any way, on the whole your article was GOOD.

  4. Subhash says:

    Hi Santosh,
    As usual your post made a good reading (how I keep envying you for your writing capabilities and the lack of that skill in me)
    Saw the movie last week with 2 (children in Std v111 and Std V)- I so share some of your views on Rancho and ofcourse one cannot just top the class without burning the mid night oil, so to say.
    Come on one needs to spend some time with those MCcabe Smith and Treyball,Faust,Kern and Kreysig if you are to top the class.The film has failed to drive the fact that there is also some benefit in that slog approach to studies. Whether we like it or not for most of us GENIUS IS 90 % PERSPIRATION ……, Very few have that so called special talent which can help them sustain the race of Life.
    Choose a work that you enjoy and you dont have to work – good philosophy but turn around, have a good look and tell me really whether ALL those who have pursuing it have really made it big in their life (I mean the money part)Do the corporations or the world’s rich really pay the singers or the tarpeize artist as much all the time. See the film world and tell me whether it is really fair world.How many of those who who showed great talent really made it to the top.
    After seeing the movie I went through a mental excercise of what is possible (other than studies) for my sons and really I didnt find anything where I could say – Yes this will sustain you far better that going through that 7-8 years trying to integrate [x2-y2arctanx]/sin^3(x-x^4) and not use it all your life.

  5. anshu tandon says:

    A commercial film has to deal in hyperbole to be successful. Hence most of the aspects are pardonable. But I seek attention of all those who have excelled in studies
    1 The single common cause for delivering excellent results at school & college level is hard work.
    2 At all levels a few things have to learnt by rote, there is no alternative. One cannot do calculus by first principle all the time.
    3 Under grad levels are primarily for acquiring knowledge of the subject & not for research.
    4 There was enough encouragement to those asking questions. However we have to introspect and identify that asking questions requires even greater knowledge of the subject and hence even more time needs to be invested.
    So Rancho is a myth, good enough for setting records on box office. But let it not denigrate a system that turns out one of the finest technologists of the world.
    And Subhash Genius is 99 % perspiration and very few people besides Einstein, Feynman, A R Rahman, Viswanathan & Tendulkar qualify as genius in recent past.

  6. sunil bendale says:

    dear Ojhaji,
    keen reader of your blog,i,hardly commented on your writing,except when i have opinion of my own.

    here i am confused betn respiration n perspiration.
    i feel both are involuntary actions though later one could be a side effect.
    are we talking about MOVIE or real life ?

    if i have to be a critic of the movie then ,sorry !

    since you have involved real life here,then let me say that, it hardly make difference in pursueing any educational philosophy,
    most of the people pursue engineering ,knowingly or unknowingly,because so called intelligent people pursue it and/or it is the most developed logic.

    in science two plus two is always four,whereas in movies it could be five.Science being a perfect logic,
    help us develope not only machines but our way of thinking.
    now why not all guys in IITs are intelligent is a matter of research !

    Anshu is right when he says that “asking question require knowledge in DEPTH.”


    “3 idiot” is a movie
    dont know if actors acted well !
    if cenematography is done well !
    if picturisation is done well !
    if it is edited well !

    if related people made huge money or not !

    dont know if intelligent people are carried away by it or not !

  7. Prasad Naik says:

    Hi Boss,
    I happened to read your blog after a long time, precisely a year & the last piece I had read was on The Kite Festivities at Ahmedabad.
    3 Idiots is my favourite & I couldn’t resist posting my comments.
    I agree that the character or Rancho is larger than life…but that’s what movie heroes have to be …in this case maybe to drive home the point of ‘doing what you enjoy & enjoying what you do’…Guess we also have small parallels in real life too & the evidence to that is the toppers for your very own college…toppers or no toppers in colllege…..at the end of the day I am sure that everyone is enjoying what they are doing & doing what they are enjoying in life now….so Alll issss Wellll !!!

  8. Atul says:

    The movie is based on Chetan Bhagat’s “Five point someone” and in the novel, the character of Rancho was not a genius as he has been depicted in the movie.

    The movie was too over the top in many places. Personally I liked the novel better.

    Instead of claiming that “The three Idiots” was not based on the novel, the movie makers should have been gracious enough to admit that. I watched the movie, and I found that it was very much based on the novel. In addition, they had added many new characters, situations etc in the movie to cater to the general movie goers.

    • santoshojha says:

      I agree with you, the similarities between the book and the play are far too many for Sri Bhagat to get relegated to the fine print rolling credits at the end of the film.

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