Two friends embark on a quest for their lost buddy. On this journey, they encounter a long-forgotten bet, a wedding they must gate-crash and a funeral that goes impossibly out of control. As they make their way through the perilous landscape, another journey begins—their inner journey through memory lane and the story of their friends: the irrepressible free-thinker Rancho who in his unique way, touched and changed their lives. And then one day, suddenly, Rancho vanished….Who was he? Where did he come from? Why did he leave?.... finally, in the misty mountains of unparallel beauty, the friends find the key to the secret.
3 Idiots is a comedy of ideas that is as provocative as it is funny, as wildly entertaining as it is insightful — a laugh riot that talks about the most important of human pursuits: self-actualization.
It is a beautiful paradox that 3 Idiots, a film with an utterly modern and youthful sensibility, evoked at its release a bygone era, when cinema tickets were hard to obtain for weeks — a phenomenon unheard of in the era of multiplexes, digital piracy and cable television. The film proved to be an irresistible magnet around the world: in small towns, the lines for its tickets created traffic jams. In metros, theatre owners had to start a separate queue for the tickets of all other films, so their patrons would not have to endure hours of wait. In faraway Michigan, a cinema manager was compelled to request some 300 enthusiasts to vacate the cinema, finding them so stirred by 3 Idiots that they were partying and dancing in the foyer long after the film was over.
However, the film’s real and abiding achievement is not in its popularity but in its power to provoke. Millions of young people of India have found heart from the film’s rousing call: follow your aptitude, work hard in your favored field for excellence, and success will follow. It has obliged parents who impel their young ones in life’s rat race ruthlessly to reflect upon their vision and action. Within a short span since its release, the film has induced so many changes of hearts and career paths that India’s youth of the second decade of the 21st century is rightly being labeled as the 3 Idiots-generation.
3 Idiots: The Original Screenplay takes you tight to the heart of the matter through rare interviews, exclusive behind-the- scenes photographs and insightful first-person accounts. The book unveils the journey of the personal philosophy of its makers, compelling a nation to think.
India produces about 800 films every year but not even eight get documented. There is no reading material available for film students or film lovers on the behind- the-scenes action, the vision of the filmmakers, and the processes involved in making a film. Lage Raho Munnabhai: The Original Screenplay was published last year. 3 Idiots: The Original Screenplay is our second attempt in this direction. This book is not just the screenplay; it is also a peek into the minds of its makers.
I would like to thank Smriti Kiran who took the initiative to come up with this book within 5 months of the release of the film. She has spent many long days and long nights chasing the cast and crew, writing and rewriting, with a smile on without her persistence, this book would not have happened.
I would also like to thank Ajay Mago and his team at Om Books International for ape to our vision.
I also wish to thank Maheep Dhillon for tirelessly redrafting the screenplay; Supriya her eye for detail; Rohan Mapuskar for poring over the dialogues; Dileep Desai, Amit Gulati, Mustafa Neemuchwala, Teja Pratap, Insia Lacewalla for support; Anupama Chopra for her invaluable insight.
And Vidhu Vinod Chopra for clearing all obstacles as always.
Every story has a back story and so does mine.
My father, Suresh Hirani, was fourteen years old when he along with the family moved to India during Partition. Initially, they took shelter in refugee camps in Agra and later shifted to Ferozabad. He had lost everything so education was low on the priority list. There were more pressing and immediate concerns like food, clothes, and shelter to worry about. To make ends meet, my father started working in a bangle factory where he painted patterns on bangles. Later, he began selling ice-cream on the streets. Despite compelling and adverse circumstances, his thirst for knowledge did not wane.
My father’s sister, who was married in Nagpur, got him a job there in a general store as a store attendant. The city brought with it opportunity my father enrolled himself in night school. Work in the day and classes at night continued and he somehow managed to graduate. Fortified with a degree and some savings, he was itching to grow. So when a friend suggested that typewriters, which were new at the time, were the future, my father decided to explore this avenue. He invested his life’s savings, borrowed the rest of the money needed and opened a typewriting institute which was referred to as a ‘Commerce Institute’ then. My father christened it ‘Rajkumar Commerce Institute’. I was not even born then. So now you know that I was named after a typewriting institute and not the other way round! Most parents would name their enterprises after their children, but I’ve had the rare honour of being named after my father’s enterprise. I’m proud of that fact.
My father’s business flourished. He got married and I was born soon after. The plan was to get into Engineering but I didn’t have enough marks in my higher secondary exams (12th standard) to make the cut so I studied commerce. I had also enrolled in this foundation course for Chartered Accountancy simultaneously, the classes for which were held in the evenings. At the end of the foundation course, the exams for Chartered Accountancy were to be held. I despised these classes from the very beginning. I had no interest in Chartered Accountancy and these classes were a huge imposition, both in terms of time and the fact that I was wasting this time on something I knew was not for me. But I had the baggage of the Engineering debacle on my head so abandoning this very viable option would have appeared self-indulgent, foolish, and luxurious at the time. I was afraid I would hurt my parents and also somewhat scared to take this step that could harm my ‘future’. I carried on with the charade.
Subconsciously, I was aware that there were some set presumptions about my future. I was expected to either become a chartered accountant or take over my father’s business. Both possibilities mortified me. Though at that point in time, I was not thinking about what would make me happy. Like any normal person, I had responsibilities and the usual concerns that range from job to future to career. As the time for the foundation course’s exams drew close, I would often wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweat.
Finally, the exams were upon me. I realized that there was no escaping the inevitable. It was imperative to tell my father that I found a root canal procedure more exciting than Chartered Accountancy. Even after twenty years, that evening is as clear in my head as if it had happened just yesterday.
It was a regular evening in Nagpur but for me it was going to be the most significant and decisive evening of my life. My father was standing alone in the living room. I walked in and walked up to where he was standing, taking lead-laden steps. My throat was dry with uncertainty and fear. It was one thing to tell your father that you did not want to pursue what seemed like an excellent career choice but it was another thing to not offer an alternative plan. The only thing I was clear about was that Chartered Accountancy was not my cup of tea. My voice quivered with apprehension as I told him that I did not want to take the exams because I did not enjoy Chartered Accountancy at all. He looked at me and then in the most nonchalant manner told me to not do it and join his office starting next morning. It was as short and simple as that. I was ecstatic. The weight of the world had lifted from my shoulders. I felt free. This happened during the period leading up to the festival Makar Sankranti which is known for kite flying. I remember running up to our terrace right after ‘the conversation’ and flying kites with this silly grin on my face. Now, the kite flying seems almost like a symbol for the sense of freedom and relief that had swept over me that day.
My commerce classes in college occupied only four hours of my time in the morning (7 am to 11.00 am), so the rest of my time was devoted to helping my father with his business (11.30 am to 6.30 pm) which had graduated from typing courses to repairing and selling new kinds of calculators and other office equipment. I immersed myself in it with the gusto of a man who had just been extracted from the gallows. I used to teach typing, go out and give demos to prospective clients, and repair spoiled units. I was even sent to Delhi to do a course in repairing electronic calculators.
This is the period where I had my first brush with theatre. I met Narendra Thakur and a few other students who used to perform and produce plays regularly at our college. I joined them. (Before this, my only experience on stage was in the 9th standard. I was cast in the role of ‘Noorjahan’ in a play.) I became a regular with the theatre gang. Abandoning the foundation course opened up my evenings to be occupied, and occupied they were with writing, reading, and brainstorming about plays. This stirred something within me. I have always believed that there are two approaches to learning: one is to study something academically and the other is to get interested in something and then start to gather material on it and learn about it. The latter is always a more gratifying experience. I would hunt for Hindi plays in quaint bookshops. I would devour anything on theatre. We would participate in competitions, youth festivals, and travel to any place that even hinted at an opportunity for exposure in the field. Youth festivals were a platform where teams from all the colleges in Nagpur came and performed. At one such festival, I met another theatre group which was performing for the Nagpur Medical College. There were a few people in that group, especially Debashish Naha, who were passionate about theatre and took this enterprise very seriously. There was an instant connection with Debashish and soon our friendship led to my theatre group merging with his to form a new theatre group called Awaaz. Debashish and I would spend hours working on plays. He would get me plays written in Bangla and we would sit down and translate them in Hindi. We started putting up plays under our banner. Personalities such as Marathi theatre-director Kishore Kulkarni, who had received acclaim on stage, were invited to direct plays for our group. We learnt under many such people who had a command over their craft and a natural flair for the medium. Since everyone was busy till 6 pm everyday, we used to meet after that. These meetings were held either at the Bengali Association Hall or at the Sindhi Gurudwara nearby which had a hall, or at the local school hall. Wherever we found some empty space, we parked ourselves. The rehearsals used to go on till midnight.
We pursued this with such passion that theatre soon became an obsession. We managed to put up a record three to four plays a year. These plays were not restricted to performing at colleges. We started putting up ticketed shows. Apart from the creative aspect, the entire production of the play was handled by us. We organized everything from booking the hall, putting up the sets, props, costumes, accounts, and even ticketing. Watching plays was not the preferred pastime in Nagpur, so we used to sell the tickets to friends and relatives. Accounts were maintained diligently. In fact, I still have some of the accounts from those days. We used to barely cover our production costs and that is all we wanted. We were not doing this for profit. We just wanted to be able to put up plays and hoped to cover costs and use the money to put up the next one. On those rare occasions, if anything was earned over and above the production cost, it ensured a grand meal for our entire group.
It was not difficult to speak to my father the second time. Intuitive and observant, he was not blind to my growing passion for theatre. The suggestion to tread this path in earnest came from my father. He told me to enroll in a program to get formal education (my father is a great believer in learning) in the field of writing, directing, and storytelling. The natural choice was to apply to the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII).
My first attempt (1983) to get into FTII in the direction course was unsuccessful. I had very little knowledge of the exam and the enrolment procedures. I had travelled to Mumbai to take the exam. There I learnt that the entrance exam for FTII was exactly like bank exams, and anyone studying for it would clear it without blinking. I also realised that seats for the direction course were few and almost everyone applied for this course. I came back to Nagpur and enrolled myself in the Faculty of Law as that seemed like a reasonable option if things did not work out. Alongside, I started preparing for the FTII exam. The next year (1984), I applied again to FTII but this time for the editing and not the direction course. I got admission. The day I received the telegram, informing me about my admission to FTII, was the happiest may of my life. I was delirious with joy. I thought I had arrived and my life was made. This thought stemmed from naiveté. Sitting in Nagpur, I had only heard of the ten to fifteen names of really successful people who had graduated from FTII so I assumed that getting admission meant I was set up for life. I looked at my admission in the Institute as one looks at getting into Law School or Engineering, Once you get in and work hard, the moment you graduate, you become a director. All these illusions were shattered two days into my time at FTII. My enthusiasm was replaced by an inferiority complex. I was from a small town in the midst of students waxing eloquent about theories, films, and ideas that were Greek and Latin to me. It took me time but I found my feet again and got my voice back. It taught me a very important lesson: you cannot lose yourself just by perceiving yourself to know less. If stereotypes have to be broken, then first they have to be broken within you.
Thus, began the journey of disillusionment and enlightenment, unlearning and learning, passion, failure, and fulfillment. After three years at FTII, I moved to Mumbai (1987) and stayed with my friend and batchmate Sriram Raghavan (filmmaker). My first job was as an editor on an advertisement directed by Bharat Rangachari. After this, I was recommended by late editor Renu Saluja and I edited a documentary. I was paid Ps 1500 for my first job and Rs 500 for the second one. But things were slow to come by. After sometime, the situation became precarious. Video had just exploded on the scene so we were hard pressed for assignments as we did not know how to edit on video. I could not even turn to my father for help because he was going through a financial slump. His business of typewriters had taken a beating because of the arrival of computers. So both my father and I were facing what you can term a ‘technological gap’.
The first year in Mumbai (1987), after passing out from the Institute, was a difficult one. I came very close to giving up during that year. There were many dark nights of the soul. I thought about going back to Nagpur. Maybe do something related to cinema there. It was a matter of survival, and the strangest options came to my mind. I entertained the idea of shooting marriage videos creatively and putting a completely unique spin to them. Maybe do multiple camera set-ups and scale things up considerably. Exports, which was a much talked about thing back then, was the other option that came to mind. I went to Fort in Mumbai (there are many street vendors of second-hand books in Fort) and picked up a book on exports. I was desperately groping in the dark trying to hold on to something. Fortunately, FTII revived its one-month video course that was promised to us. We rushed back to the Institute for the course. After one month, we returned to Mumbai with the knowledge of what would be our survival kit in the city: video editing.
I joined an editing studio called Ekta Studio (1988) as an in-house editor on a monthly salary of Ps 1000. My six-month stint here gave me enough contacts and clout in the market to get regular work. I told myself, rather theatrically, that it mattered not if I didn’t make a lot of money: this life I have devoted to cinema. I convinced myself with something as dramatic as that. Once you accept this, then the dark nights disappear and all nights convert to being nights of battle: the battle to become better, to excel, to strive towards quality.
During this phase of finding my feet in the business, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, my peer from FTII, who was assisting Vidhu Vinod Chopra, called me to edit the promos of 1942: A Love Story (1992). But things did not go beyond that just yet.
Meanwhile, from editing I had moved up to directing advertising films and opened my own production house called Canvas Films (1991).
In 1998, I was called in to edit the promos of Kareeb as well because Vinod had liked my work on 1942: A Love Story. This was again a one-off stint. I continued doing work In advertising. Canvas Films flourished and I became financially secure.
I had settled into a comfortable pattern till the morning I received a call from Vinod (2000). He wanted me to edit Mission Kashmir. Not just the promos but the entire film. Initially, I was reluctant as I did not want to leave a lucrative set-up. But once I learnt of Renu’s condition (Renu, Vinod’s first wife and film editor, was suffering from cancer and her condition was going from bad to worse with each passing day), I could not say no. It was during the making of Mission Kashmir that my latent desire to direct a feature film resurfaced. Watching cinema being made with such passion and commitment by Vinod and his team rekindled the spirit in me that I had in my theatre days.
I knew I was ready to make a film. And I began working on writing my first film. How Munna Bhai came about is another long story but that I will keep for the book on Munna Bhai M.B.B.S.
So why did I just spill my guts and share my life with you?
Simply because so much of 3 Idiots is personal. I am a small town man from Nagpur with no connections or background in films. I started working towards something that made me happy and that is all there is to it. I worked with passion and honesty, and even if success had not come my way, I would still have been really happy as I got to chase my dreams.
It has been a long and wonderful ride, but the key here is, it has been a ride of my choice. The desire to make 3 Idiots stemmed from this thought. I am not trying to say that Engineering or Chartered Accountancy or any other profession for that matter is any less than Wildlife Photography or Filmmaking, and so on. My belief is simple. Choose your own path. Choose without fear. It is not a foolproof formula for happiness or success but it is definitely one that is most likely to work.
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