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Five Point Similarities,3 Identical Things

Is 3 Idiots only 5 per cent like Five Point Someone,as Aamir Khan would have you believe? Or is it closer to 70 per cent,which is what Chetan Bhagat claims “prominent movie critics” have told him “privately”?....

Written by Mihir S. Sharma | New Delhi |
January 3, 2010 3:48:50 am

Is 3 Idiots only 5 per cent like Five Point Someone,as Aamir Khan would have you believe? Or is it closer to 70 per cent,which is what Chetan Bhagat claims “prominent movie critics” have told him “privately”? Has the film’s producer,Vidhu Vinod Chopra,“ethically violated” the contract he signed with Bhagat? The Indian Express investigated the similarities and differences. And,wouldn’t you know it,there are five points that matter.

The first two are points of agreement.

n First,both book and film are about three friends at an engineering college,who bond over ragging,and don’t much like the way that they’re being taught. That much,presumably,would be in anything set in an IIT-style institution. But similarities in what happens to the three go much further: during ragging,for example,one of them,rather extraordinarily,defies the seniors,and generally turns out to be much cooler than the other two. The second is generally terrified by the pressure of college and the third is from a family that’s struggling financially,which leads him into taking some pretty extreme steps. Their shared disaffection with the place leads them into disciplinary problems that are pretty much unchanged between the book and the film; and those problems aren’t resolved differently,either.

n Second,one of them starts seeing the daughter of a particularly control-freaky professor,and there’s a major plot point—in the book,the biggest twist,in the movie the second-biggest—that has to do with the professor’s family. That bit is a direct lift—but,appropriately,it’s a lot more filmi in the movie.

Those are direct similarities. Yes,they’re pretty big,but that’s where they end.

n The third point,and first big difference,is that the movie doesn’t stop at graduation; it follows the three friends into their later,post-career life—which is where it gets to its biggest twist.

n The second difference,and fourth point,is also telling: the movie is a star vehicle in a way the book very definitely is not. The “cool” character in the book is played by Aamir Khan in the movie. (Though,in the book,the character is over six feet tall.) And,unlike in the book,the love affair is his; unlike in the book,he isn’t prone to sulks; unlike in the book,his distaste for the teaching doesn’t affect his ability to perform in examinations. There’s not much nuance left in the character by the time the adaptors,Abhijat Joshi and Vidhu Vinod Chopra,got through with it.

n But the fifth point,and the third similarity,is a pretty big deal to most viewers. Which is that that both book and movie sound the same. They make the same points about India’s educational system,about controlling parents,about stifled creativity,and they make it in the same way,using Bhagat’s language.

And that probably explains the spat: different ideas of what “new” means,and of what creativity means. Chetan Bhagat is an engineer. When he hears “based about 5 per cent on your book”,he estimates the proportion of screen time that sounds like it is lifted from his book—and,naturally,has a completely different,and higher,estimate. Aamir Khan,according to Bhagat,was asked not to read the book,so perhaps he’s not an expert on the comparison.

And Rajkumar Hirani and Vidhu Vinod Chopra? Well,by Bollywood’s standards for “inspiration”,they would think that they’re entitled to think of this as a substantially altered script. There’s certainly a lot that is new and ultra-filmi in it. But Bollywood’s standards for “original” are not necessarily everybody else’s. Perhaps what makes this unusual is that the primary creator has a platform that lets him speak his mind—and has sold enough books to legitimately claim he isn’t in it for the money.

Indeed,whether or not he feels his name was “buried”,as he has claimed on his blog,one thing is certain: it won’t hurt Bhagat’s sales. Even if the movie hasn’t made a big deal of the links,Five Point Someone was out of stock in four major South Delhi bookstores on Saturday. Everyone,said an sales assistant at one,seemed to be buying it this weekend. After all,it says right on top: “the national bestseller,soon to be a major film”. Only it doesn’t specify the film’s name. Perhaps burying Bhagat’s name was just payback?

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