Aamir Khan is on a mission. Like Stars on Earth/Taare Zameen Par tackled India’s test-centered attitude towards teaching those with small attention spans and large artistic talents. Khan joins forces with Vinod Chopra to create three eccentric engineers capable of crashing through class barriers of both sociological and pedagogical construction in 3 Idiots.
My father, a first generation college student turned engineering professor, always describes engineering as a “first generation degree.” Study philosophy as an undergraduate gain admission grad school. Study engineering and upon graduation – even in a desperate economy – you will get a job. The fictional parents in Chopra and Khan’s film agree. Their desperation to launch their sons into the professional class blinkers them to the possibility that if their offspring lacks the talent or desire to be India’s Edison, their sacrifice and their sons’ torment could be for naught.
The most interesting character, of course, is Khan’s. He has none of the parental pressure exerted by his classmates parents; he possesses the innate talent to excel at inane exams; but he pressures the professoriate to infuse engineering with the creative spark that takes theoretical science and transforms it into inventions for the betterment of humans.
Khan’s character exists to challenge Amy Chua’s tiger cubs. Such a cub – studious, competitive, anti-social, symbolically and physically flatulent - constantly questions the heroic engineer’s quest for academic flexibility. Unsurprisingly, his hot air fails to propel him ahead of his nonchalant, creative, compassionate rival.
The film appeared in India long before Chua’s epistle on parenting assaulted Americans. However, its arrival on my Netflix list after the Tiger roared proved appropriate. Each work questions the definition of success. Chua and the Chopra’s gaseous character use numbers to calculate success: points on exams and salaries earned.
“Silencer” returns to revel in his perceived victory over his former rival, “Rancho.” He has the American title, house, and spouse befitting a his definition of success. His rival has not acquired these accouterments of ambition.
In a wild-west style standoff suitable to their nicknames but with only pens for weapons, Silencer discovers that Rancho’s success surpasses his own in the trite arena of acquisition. He is phenomenally wealthy and famous under a different name. He COULD have all the things Silencer desires, but he has achieved success by a different definition. He has brought good to the world through his inventions and his instruction at a school designed to his specifications in the Indian Himalayas, where Shah Rukh Khan’s heroic engineer returned to his homeland in Swades. Rancho, the true Indian tiger, could not be silenced. The would-be American tiger cub crawls out with his tail between his legs.