January 6, 2010

Aal izz not well at all

I don’t know if Chetan Bhagat ever worked for Bill Gates but he acknowledges MS Word, Microsoft as well as Bill Gates. Right up front. Even though they don’t figure in the book at all. It is a heartfelt gratitude he expresses. He needn’t really have done it but as a first time author he even acknowledged the enabling power of the software, the company that produced it and the man who was behind it. It is a comprehensive acknowledgment. It is touching. It is sincere. Now, when I watched 3 Idiots (even the title (as does some of the dialogue, characters, philosophy, situations, plotlines etc) most definitely comes from the book “You guys are idiots. You know, just big idiots. That is what you are.” P 199) the rolling credit for the acknowledgement did not come right up front. It comes after the movie has ended, after two hours and 40 minutes have elapsed, after the cast has gone by. This is not a quibble: I don’t know if, when Chetan Bhagat negotiated the credit, he demanded that the credit be placed right up front or not but it is probable that he was overwhelmed that his book was being made into a movie by some of the country’s most eminent Bollywood personalities and glad that his name was stuck in there somewhere and he didn’t care where so long as the film was made. Is this alternative possible: that the producer and the director suo motu offered to put the credit right up front and Chetan Bhagat, demurred in a five point someone sort of way, saying “No, no. I insist that you stick the credit in the end, you know, after the movie is over? In fact, let it roll up when the people are making a beeline for the exit. Even smallish text will do.” And the producer and the director say in unison: “All right, only because you insist. Shall we put that also into the contract?”

This is not about rolling credits, or standing credits or jumping credits or swimming credits. This is about due credit in an appropriate manner. The fact is some of the most memorable films we have grown up with have been adapted from books. They would not be there if the book hadn’t been there. This business of 2.5 per cent or 10 per cent or 20 per cent based on a book or loosely based does not make any sense at all. It is a chicken and egg question where the answer is obvious which came first. A film is either based on a book or it isn’t. There is no in between. 3 Idiots is certainly based on Chetan Bhagat’s book. There is no doubt in anybody’s mind about that. About the publicity bit: people generally want publicity for a piece of work they have produced. (In fact, the more the better). Those who reproduce it in any form have to acknowledge the parentage. Chetan couldn’t, for example have said: “You know, my book has sold enough already. So, you guys can be really stingy with the credit where I am concerned. I am a cult figure already, you see?” Now the makers of the film are saying there are 30 departures from the book and have put it up in a website, and have gone on Youtube to defend themselves. My point is whether there are 30 departures or 130 departures or even 1030 points of departure from the book, it is still based on the book. There is also a larger issue here that is easy to overlook: You cannot clamber on to a soapbox and claim to be making a movie with a moral and social message and somehow be less than acceptably ethical when it comes to an issue like giving due credit in an appropriate manner. That is cheap. But that it is the culture we are used to so far. You shortchange authors, rip off movies from one language and make it in another language and pass it off as your own. You rip off songs and music from other artistes and pass it off as your own. How many examples have we seen of this already? Correct me if I am wrong but did I see enough credit given to Chris Nolan or his brother when I saw the other film in which Aamir Khan appeared — Gajini?

Some of the finest movies that I have seen have been books and when they were made into films they created some of the finest directors. All of them acknowledged the authors upfront and with due honesty if not humility. Take Day of the Jackal. How much of the book is there in the film? Take Godfather. Mario Puzo himself didn’t think much of his book. Francis Ford Coppola who was approached to make the film read the book and considered it trashy. He didn’t want to make the film. But he wanted the money. Everybody accepts that Coppola improved upon the book. The departures only strengthen the film. Or take Peter Benchley. Like Chetan Bhagat, he too is no Shakespeare. Like Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone, Jaws was his first book too, a first novel about a fish with teeth. Benchley thought: Who cared about that? How would Hollywood train a great white, anyway?

When Steven Spielberg turned it into a monstrous success his opus at that time was slim: Duel (1971) and Sugarland Express (1974). The first thing he did was throw out Benchley’s screenplay and had the plot rewritten completely. He gave Quint (the character Robert Shaw plays) a context that was not in the book. He did away with two subplots that Benchley had worked into the book, a mafia angle and the cuckolding of the police chief (played by Roy Scheider) and completely changed the characters, sweetening them, dumbing down the sexual angles, underplaying the violence and gore that Benchley obviously relished. When Orca goes down and one of the three main characters manage to shove an oxygen cylinder in the mouth of the giant mechanical shark and shoot it making the shark explode to smithereens, Benchley was appalled. He objected, saying, “Steven, it couldn’t happen that way. It is not possible.” It was the anguish of an author watching his work morph before his very eyes. Spielberg replied: “I don’t really care.” But the larger point remains: It is still based on Peter Benchley’s book. It is still Mario Puzo’s Godfather. Coppola does not have any problems acknowledging that. One story line in 3 Idiots is shot in blue à la Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, 2000); there are moving photographs in an album à la Harry Potter… If Chetan Bhagat feels his pockets have been somehow picked it is easy to see why. Certainly, aal izz not well. I daresay the book is more adult than the sophomoronic behaviour of our forty something going on nineteen actor, producer and director put together.



Pardesi said...

And there is this blog post, most detailed and well researched:

Five Point Someone v/s 3 Idiots – A closer look
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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, Alok, Another’s the narrator Hari 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?

Pardesi said...

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 book, Pia obviously falls for Rancho based on Ryan instead.

Pardesi said...

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.

Pardesi said...

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.

Pardesi said...

I am still really confused by the work-for-hire clause. How can any such clause be applied retroactively? The work was done by Bhagat way before the contract.

Kunal said...

Great posts there Pardesi. No doubts the movie sounds very similar to the book, infact only difference seems like movie was way below the interestingness of the book.

Anyhow, the issue is dead and buried, but it must have taught enough to others to protect their creative work.

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