Now, that the parties have laid the issue to rest and have decided to move on with closing statements, it maybe a good time for us the readers/the audience to take compare the book and the movie and give credit where it is due. Also now that everyone has seen the movie, I hope mentioning a few plot details won’t spoil it anymore.
Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone was about three underachievers who come to terms with the system after failed attempts of cheating it. The commentary on the education system, the academic pressure all remained as the subtext as Bhagat chose to focus on the personal lives of three best friends. It was a coming-of-age story where the guys learned a few things about life.
Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots is about three friends in the top-most engineering college in the country too but Hirani likes to preach and hence turns the smartass among the three into a full-blown wise man… a saint. Baba Ranchoddas.
Given the inherent need of a Bollywood film to have a hero who does the right thing, Ryan’s character from the book became this righteous philosopher who seemed more keen to teach the teachers than learn himself.
I find it hard to believe that a guy like Aamir Khan who spends hours researching his look for every film and goes to insane levels chasing perfection hadn’t read Five Point Someone before he agreed to do the film, much before the script was ready.
Let’s for a minute look at the raw material from the point of view of an actor.
There are three guys in the book – One’s a fat dude called Fatso, the narrator who seems like a wimp except for the fact that he gets the girl. One’s the poverty-stricken geek who is blindly conforming to the system and the third guy is this total dude who teaches his seniors a lesson right in Scene One when they try to rag him.
So you are this A-list star and are asked to pick one of the three characters. Which one would you pick?
What would be your only request to the makers especially if it makes no difference to the plot if the girl falls in love with the stud?
I do not want to assume that Aamir insisted on the change but whether it was Aamir’s decision or Hirani’s, it is obvious that the changes were made keeping in mind the image of the Bollywood hero – the guy who can do no wrong and in the process of teaching the villain a lesson, also gets the girl.
The hero’s journey in a film is complete only when he wins and hence, the need to show what happens to the guy who didn’t follow the system ten years later.
Take a look at how events in the book translated to film. Alok=Raju, Ryan=Rancho, Hari=Farhan, Prof.Cherian=Virus, Neha=Pia, Venkat=Chatur.
One of the three guys is being rushed to the hospital and one of them decides he has to tell the story behind it.
The film opts for a different flashback point which is also one of the most significant differences to adaptation. What are these characters doing ten years since they first met – an interesting thought. The film hence begins with some larger than life moments of a passenger faking a heart attack and makes his friend leave his house without his pants on after an old college mate reminds them of the day of the bet – the day they will find out who’s more successful. And since the film’s a commentary on the education system, what better day than Teacher’s Day.
Chapter 1: Bare Beginnings
Ragging episode & What’s a Machine
While Bhagat’s more dramatic in the Ragging episode, Hirani dumbs down the Machine episode by making the professor sound unreasonably stupid by insisting on jargon. In the book, the Professor suggests a machine is anything that reduces human effort and smartass Ryan asks: Then, what about a benchpress?
Chapter 2: Terminator
Alok’s desire to conform to system v/s Ryan’s beating the system
In the book, the boys jump hostel to catch a movie and we realise the differences in their outlooks. Alok wants to conform to the system, Ryan wants to beat it and Hari, the narrator is in between while in the movie, Rancho demonstrates right at the beginning that he likes to bathe in public and learn things himself by opening up parts of machines.
In the film, this translates to Rancho spelling out his mantra – Aal Iz Well or telling yourself that everything is okay when the pressure mounts up.
Chapter 3: Barefoot on Metal
Mugging Notes & Meeting with the Professor’s daughter
While Bhagat sets the mood in the campus by talking about how the boys mug notes and sets up the hero’s first meeting with the Professor’s daughter, Hirani takes Venkat from the book and give him a meatier role in the film as Chatur to epitomise the malady of mugging notes and memorizing them without quite understanding the meaning.
Chapter 4: Line Drawing
Alok’s typically poor filmi family, Boys night out and Neha’s revelation of her brother’s death due a railway accident.
All these elements from the book have been made an integral part of the screenplay as Hirani makes these guys gatecrash a wedding and bump into the girl for the first time. Though we learn only in the fourth chapter of the book that the Dean’s son had a railway accident, we learn about this quite early on in the film when Virus speaks about how his own son couldn’t get in for three years in a row.
Chapter 5: Make Notes, Not War
First set of exams – pressure. And the author’s budding romance with Neha
In the book, Bhagat speaks about the tension, the pressure in the eve of exams. Hirani uses a song to bring out this angst and unleashes a dramatic twist of a student suicide.
Chapter 6: Five point something
First set of results out – “These were pathetic grades: we ranked in the high 200s in a class of 300 students”
Alok’s rant about his mother not having bought a Sari in 5 years, Alok moves out and moves in with Venkat, the geek
All these are faithfully retained in the film and are manifested in the bathroom sequence when Raju tells Farhan that he’s moving in with Chatur.
Chapter 7: Alok Speaks Out
Alok reveals more about his family background, Dad’s paralysis
Things we learn in episodes in the book are revealed much earlier in the course of the film as with any adaptation.
Chapter 8: One Year Later
Alok begins to hate Venkat, Ryan takes Alok’s Dad to the hospital, wins back Alok
Similarly, Rancho wins Raju back and exposes Chatur in the movie.
This is manifested through a brilliant scene where Rancho uses a Find and Replace to Chatur’s Teacher’s Day Speech.
Chapter 9: Mice Theory
Ryan’s theory: “The system is nothing but a mice race… Name one invention in three decades”
Rancho demonstrates this through that popular Farhanitrate and Prerajulisation scene.
Chapter 10: Co-operate to dominate:
Ryan’s take in the book is to cheat the system
Here is where the film deviates from the book since Rancho can’t do anything wrong. He’s not a smartass like Ryan who is looking to just have fun in college, Rancho’s a wise man… a saint Baba Ranchoddas who in fact tops the class because he’s naturally smart. A Bollywood hero in a mainstream film needs to top the class, right?
Chapter 11: The Gift
The visit to Alok’s house when Alok’s Mom cries again and the boys decide to focus on the Mutter-Paneer and how the boys break into Cherian’s house to meet Neha.
Yes, Hirani does use the Mutter-Paneer moment a little before the boys meet the girl for the first time but the breaking in happens much later in the film.
Chapter 12: Neha Speaks
Neha speaks about her feelings for Hari and the three guys and how different they were from the rest
In the film, Pia obviously falls for Rancho based on Ryan instead.
Chapter 13: One More Year Later
Cherian begins to teach their class
“It’s the same Cherian crap. Treat humans like mindless machines”
Cherian’s lecture on efficiency and not wasting time is manifested through his routine in the film – shaving in seven and a half minutes, listening to the opera, wearing a shirt with Velcro to save time etc.
Chapter 14: Vodka
Getting caught drunk in class and Alok’s need to get a Maruti 800 as dowry for his sister’s wedding. Cherian to set the toughest paper
All these details have been loyally retained since the Director wants the students to fail. In the film, he swears that he will shave his moustache off even if one of the two get placed.
Chapter 15: Operation Pendulum
Plan to steal the papers from Cherian’s office using Neha’s keys
In the film, the heroine is only a willing accomplice to this plan and hands over the keys to the boys because the director insists that the boys can do no wrong. The Heroes are Holier Than Thou.
Chapter 16: Longest day of my life – 1
Neha’s brother’s suicide note. He killed himself after failing to get into the Institute 3 times.
We learn about this suicide note in the film through a wonderfully written dialogue. “He wanted to be a writer. All he could write was this suicide note.”
Chapter 17: Longest Day of my life – 2
The guys prepare to steal the paper against all odds
Chapter 18: Longest Day of my life – 3
The red wax seal and the phone call that got them busted
This happens almost exactly as described in the book.
Chapter 19: Longest Day of my life – 4
Busted, Dean slaps Ryan across the face, disciplinary action
A little dramatised for film, Virus attacks Ryan with an umbrella and insists they move out of college in pouring rain.
Chapter 20: Longest Day of my life – 5
Alok jumps from the Insti roof unable to take the pressure of being rusticated
This happens much earlier in the film after the Director makes Raju choose between his friends and his rustication.
Chapter 21: Longest Day of my life – 6
Alok in the hospital with his legs motionless, survives near death
Raju goes into a coma in the film and needs Bollywood style miracle to make it.
Chapter 22: Ryan Speaks
We learn how the narrator wanted to be an artist and of Ryan’s past
This has been adapted to the narrator wanting to be a wild-life photographer and the sub-plot involving Ryan’s past has been completely changed. We learn at halfway point in the film that Rancho was not even his real name. He was merely a proxy student for his rich master.
Chapter 23: Kaju Barfi:
The three get another chance to write and submit their projects
Omitted from the film except that we learn that Raju’s suspension was revoked when Rancho tells him during the coma.
Chapter 24: Will We Make it
Alok on crutches, the three finish their coursework and resubmit their projects.
Raju too is on crutches and comes back to the Institute as a new man.
Chapter 25: A Day of Letters
Cherian finally finds the letter his son’s suicide note and breaks down.
This happens rather awkwardly in the film since the screenwriters tamper with the narrative a little too much. One scene Kareena is handing out the suicide note to her Dad and the immediate next scene, she’s in hospital and the Father is unable to get the pregnant sister to the hospital. Every time there’s a departure from the book, the writers slap in a larger than life sequence that requires generous doses of willing suspension of disbelief. Like the delivery scene that follows.
Chapter 26: Meeting Daddy
Alok’s interview and Ryan’s research internship
Have to agree that Hirani and Abhijat Joshi do a much better job of writing and fleshing out the interview scene and the actors rock it too. We do learn in the book that Hari wanted to be a writer, so here Hirani makes Farhan talk to his Dad about his dream internship with a wild-life photographer.
Chapter 27: Five Point Someone
Cherian realises how the Education system is flawed in a dream sequence. The boys pass out of IIT and the narrator post a letter to Ryan’s parents for funding his project.
The posting of the letter in the film happens with Farhan. Ryan can’t take favours from anyone because he’s the hero of the film and hence, posts Farhan’s letter and makes his dream come true.
* * *
Well, so almost all of Five Point Someone but for a chapter has found its way into 3 Idiots in one form or the other. And just for that reason alone, Chetan Bhagat ought to have got a story credit right upfront. Coming up with a parallel narrative of what happens 10 years ago alone does not change the entire story, however interesting or entertaining the twists are.
But seriously, imagine the suspension of disbelief and the convenience of co-incidences that Hirani and Joshi in that parallel original narrative that has nothing to do with the book. I mean what are the chances that the girl is getting married the same day as the day of the bet and the day Ranchoddass’s father died and the time Silencer/Chatur has to meet Phunsukh Wangdu and his lost classmate with whom he’s had a bet turns out to be Wangdu?
Yes, Hirani says they have fulfilled the contract and given the writer the credit he was promised but does that really entitle him to claim ownership of the story?
The ‘Work for Hire’ is a generic clause that negates all contribution from the writer and transfers ownership of the idea to the producer and the work is treated as commissioned. Bhagat unwittingly signed a contract with this deadly clause that now leaves him helpless.
There’s what you can do legally and what you have to do morally. Especially, when you teach us moral science lessons film after film.
Hirani has fallen in my eyes. If this can happen to one of the most popular writers in the country, then imagine the plight of the lesser known.
First, it was Aamir taking over a writer’s film as a director. Yes, he did a fantastic job no doubt but there’s no denying the arm-twisting. Then, there was a case about a lesser known writer claiming that Lage Raho Munnabhai was inspired from a concept note he submitted of a film he wanted to make called Gandhi and The Kid.
Hirani and Co ought to learn from Vishal Bhardwaj who credited a rather unknown Cajetan Boy for just the idea of Kaminey right at the beginning of the film and even named a character after the screenwriter he met at a seminar.
We crib about lack of writers and scripts all the time. But if this is how we treat them, how can we expect writers to come up with original ideas and trust them to Bollywood?
Lucky for Bhagat, his novel is still available for us to compare and discover. God bless the rest.
P.S: I love 3 Idiots as a film, however manipulative it is emotionally and I think Hirani is an excellent filmmaker who knows his craft and despite its flaws. Also Abhijat Joshi and Hirani have put together a decent screenplay with some really well written moments but that’s not the point of this post. The point of the post is if Bhagat should have also been credited for the Story.
As for the film, you can read my review here.