On the occasion of Teacher’s Day here is looking at one of the most loved scenes of comedy, from one of the most beloved comedies of our times and asking if we realise the cost of the humour we so amply glorify.
It was genuinely all fun and games.
Every time people, peers, and elders, would sit down to discuss 3 Idiots, the film, invariably the Teacher’s Day speech would come up. Look at how Rancho so smartly explains his point to Raju. Did you see how Chatur was put in place? Serves him right. Love watching Virus being put in his place, it’s such fun!
Growing up around people who revered the now cult classic as a rip-roaring comedy on the farcical nature of our education system and parental expectations from children, aspects of the film ever hardly struck me as odd. Until recently while speaking to one of my high-school teachers I was pleasantly taken aback to hear,
I have no respect for a film that makes such comedy out of a public humiliation of teachers and that too by making them the butt end of rape jokes. It is obscene and crude.
Here was a man, a teacher at that, who disliked what is arguably one of the most impactful and successful films of recent years. Not because it spoke about herd mentality, and emphasised excellence over success, but because of the way it treated it’s teachers in the process of proving a point.
Of course not all teachers deserve to be worshipped on altars. Some are mean, insensitive and just bad at their job. But is it okay to make an entire nation laugh by making your professor the butt end of rape jokes? Think about it.
The scene in question serves a dual purpose in the narrative of the film. It is to explain to Raju the importance of excellence and enjoying your curriculum as opposed to rote learning the same. But at the same time it is yet another widely lauded vilification of the figure of the nerd, who is close to his professors, knows nothing but studying, is socially awkward and of course is the butt end of bullying and abuse. And in the context of the film, this very same stooge of the professor becomes the instrument by which the cool students get back at the professors they hate so much.
My argument is simple. In no way am I endorsing a cut-throat competitive world or a teaching persona who believes your life is of no worth unless you pursue engineering or medicine. My problem is simple and different. How can we, as a society come together to hate b laughing at them and making them the butt end of rape jokes? The perpetrators of the crime literally go on to celebrate the victory of the same in the next scene and by the end of the film are hailed as heroes. The nerd is the one who is made to appear in poor light.
Humour is tricky business. Comedy is purposely designed to critique societal norms and the establishment but if the core purpose of comedy is to relieve through laughter then isn’t it important to question where that humour or laughter is coming from? Really think about it. Sexual harassment and abuse in academia is a widespread problem across the world. Horror stories of students, male and female, being abused by professors and teachers galore. We all have that one friend who confided in us about that one evening, in one empty tuition class, when the teacher they revered for so long transgressed from all acceptable social norms.
Another, easily overlooked aspect of the scene in question is the use of language as a tool of oppression. The student in question, Chatur, grew up in Pondicherry and Uganda and speaks, quite unconvincingly, broken hindi. How is it alright to use this as an excuse to vilify him and the teachers he so deeply adores? As a student of a university as large as Delhi University, every day I see students from distant parts of the country, struggling to convey the most basic of questions. Why? They do not know Hindi and their English is not perfect. But they still try. And even as they try and helplessly request people to not speak in hindi, there are people in abundance who think it fun to reply to their questions in hindi just for the sake of a few laughs. It is 2021 and yet linguistic chauvinism is a tool of abuse in the student community.
In the post-MeToo scenario, films, especially cult classics like the one in question, need to be recognised for their casual humouring of abuse. As an outcast nerd myself, I do not know how long it will take for society to actually come around to stop vilifying us. But that is a different issue altogether. But what we can start off, as students, is to recognise these instances of trivialisation of deeply troubling issues such as abuse in educational spaces. Our teachers are not without their faults and by god we are part of a deeply fundamentally flawed education system. But really our teachers and by large our students deserve better representation than this.
Now that I think, is it really all fun and games?