Serial Bus

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Why 3 Idiots might become a Flop

with 4 comments

Since every idiot worth his/her salt is opining on the row between Chetan Bhagat and Vidhu Vinod Chopra & Co, I thought I should contribute to such a rich national debate. This story has dominated the news cycle in India for the last few days and before it starts testing people’s patience, I wanted to express my solidarity for Chetan.

Let me put in a few disclaimers – I am a big Aamir fan, I have always admired VVC’s vision, I can’t stop loving Raju Hirani’s knack for comedy and some of us have long appreciated Abhijat Joshi, the supposed dark horse. Despite some minor flaws, I loved ‘3 Idiots’. I have not read Five Point Someone (or any other book written by Chetan) and for this reason, VVC might have questioned my right to even have an opinion. However, my solidarity with Chetan has nothing to do with VVC’s deranged outburst at the now-famous press conference. I am not letting it cloud my judgment in the same way that I am discounting Chetan’s melodramatic statements on the television – he has been supplying a lot of lowly grist that is the staple in most news channels now-a-days. I keep wondering if the writer in him is incapable of escaping cliches. Also, legally, Chetan’s gripes have no locus standi and he knows it well. The contract he signed with VVC & Co in 2005 is now a part of the dirty linen that is hanging dry in public. The contract has been abided by and nobody can even contemplate a lawsuit. That said, here is why I believe Chetan has been wronged.

All the pre-release publicity for the movie took pains to clarify that it was ‘loosely based’ on FPS. My wife had read FPS and as we drove back from the theater, she kept saying how several plot elements and situations were exactly the same as FPS. Since then, several people have closely analyzed both the book and the movie closely and the internet is awash with solid information on the similarities.

Of course, the whole angle regarding disappearance of Rancho and the quest of his friends to find him is quite central to the movie too and that has no link to FPS. But, the story’s pivot is the 3 friends and their travails in a college. The quest for Rancho takes over in the second half however could such a story progression or such a climax be built upon another story? For illustration, Aamir should ask himself – could we have transplanted the second half of ‘3 Idiots’ into any of this other his movies and still walked away satisfied? Could it have fit well into a story about an eloping couple (QSQT) or terrorism (Fanaa) or a cab driver (Raja Hindustani) or short-term memory loss (Ghajini) or a troupe of rural cricket players (Lagaan) or even about a group of happy-go-lucky friends (Rang De Basanti or Dil Chahta Hai)? No, the shoe does not fit! Without the setting and the plot that FPS provides, the rest of the ‘3 Idiots’ story would not take any meaningful shape. So, the first and foremost issue is – why not give the story credit to Chetan too, alongside Hirani and Joshi? Sharing it with a third person would have hardly hurt anyone. With the credibility Joshi and Hirani had established with the Munnabhai series, they could have afforded the inclusion of a third story-writer quite easily.

I have no basis for this but I strongly believe this chicanery was engineered by VVC. He bagged the story rights of FPS through a contract his company signed with Chetan on 01 Sep 2005, barely an year after FPS was published. While it had done well, the book had not yet attained the cult following it has today and it was the maiden effort of a white-collar worker who had no footing in Bollywood. Just the prospect of having his booked turned into a movie by stalwarts like VVC and Hirani must have sounded like a big deal.

With no precedent to lean on, he signed the contract which watered down his rights and pegged the value of his magnus opus at INR 1 lakh with another INR 10 lakhs payable upon ‘monetary success of the movie’ and that too, ‘at the discretion of the producer’. Today, it seems a joke that while VVC is laughing his way to the bank (‘100 crores in 4 days’) and other major players would have made millions too, the guy whose imagination fired their success was paid a measly 1 million rupees. Of course, a J K Rowling and a Stephanie Meyer would have fared much better because the success of films based on their books was more or less assured by the mass following their books had developed. The usual Hindi-speaking audience of ‘3 Idiots’ would have not heard of FPS – a book that was celebrated only by India’s English-speaking urbane lot. That said, INR 1 lakh for a story still sounds like peanuts and the discretionary payment of INR 10 lakhs is just slighly bigger peanuts. Legally, VVC also fulfilled another consideration – of putting Chetan’s name in the credits however VVC must ask himself – when the story is so heavily borrowed from the book, should not such a credit roll immediately after the story/script/screenplay credits?

The foolish part of the current histrionics is the denial from VVC & Co that they altered the story so much that it was unrecognizable (‘only 5% borrowed’ is the claim). The tragic part is that Aamir is left holding this bag – he has issued some very serious statements accusing Chetan of being ‘publicity-hungry’ and claiming that Joshi is the guy everyone should be thanking for the story. He is chipping away at his own credibility – if he just read the book, he would know how many times he has been putting his foot in his mouth. Also, Aamir keeps saying ‘categorically’ that Chetan himself told Aamir that the film script is very different from FPS – while Chetan has alternated between saying he was and he was not shown the script and that he was simply repeating to Aamir what Hirani told him. If the final script was shown to Chetan and he still did not speak up the truth, it makes Chetan spineless but such anecdotal evidence is still pointless if Aamir can himself determine how much of the book made its way into the script. So, Aamir, please read FPS and then make up your mind – stop being a mouthpiece for VVC & Co!!

At the end of the day, both parties could lend some more dignity to their claims and VVC & Co could stop being so stingy about sharing the spoils. With its message of magnanimity and high thinking, after all this is over, ‘3 Idiots’ could still be remembered for this episode and despite earning millions, that would still make it a flop!


Written by serialbus

January 2, 2010 at 10:44 pm

4 Responses

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  1. well said…


    January 3, 2010 at 6:21 am

  2. You are writing such a strong worded public letter against ‘3 Idiots ” team without reading FPS !!!!

    Don’t you think you may be putting YOUR FOOT IN YOUR MOUTH without an actual grasp of facts, which you WILL have as you have not read FPS.

    I have read FPS, I have seen 3 Idiots & I can say with conviction : the Book & Movie are < 10 % similar. Movie scriptwriting is very different from writing a Book. The credit for script & screenplay should go to Hirani & Abhijat. Some elements in script have been incorporated from FPS & this has been done legally. Every one including Chetan Bhagat knows that the contract he signed has been honoured fairly.
    Now that the movie is a huge success he is trying to create a ruckus & boost sale of his FPS. His FPS is already a bestseller but I guess nobody minds extra-fast buck.

    Dr MG

    January 14, 2010 at 7:32 am

  3. i do agree that Mr Bhagat got a raw deal in all this, but since the agreement was done a few years ago when FPS was just another english language novel by an indian author. And no one cud have predicted the BO potential of a movie like 3 idiots and i am sure back then the director, let alone the fact that a newbie named Hirani will be a blockbuster director


    January 31, 2010 at 3:27 pm

  4. @serialbus open your eyes…3 idiots is super hit for its own reaons…there ‘were’ no reasons it would be a flop.


    June 11, 2010 at 10:54 am

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