Social Class in 3 Idiots
by Abhishek Das
In the film 3 Idiots (December 23, 2009) directed by Rajkumar Hirani, food and cinematic elements reveal socioeconomic disparities between characters of differing classes in India. Towards the beginning of the film, three students at the Imperial College of Engineering in India form a tight friendship and alliance against their power-hungry school headmaster, Virus. Virus abuses his power throughout the movie to embarrass and harass these students, especially emphasizing their class differences, and this class difference is present in the different types of foods depicted in the film.
One of the students, Raju Rastogi, is verbally abused and ridiculed the most for his economic situation. Raju comes from a very low-class Indian village where both of his parents are unemployed and suffer from a litany of ailments. As the three friends venture to Raju’s house, the the film begins to change visually, and the screen depicts his home through a black-and-white film rather than through color. This black-and-white highlights the fact that Raju’s home is poor and decrepit and lacks life.
Close-up shots of the food in Raju’s kitchen show the poor quality of food cooked, reflecting Raju’s low economic status. From close-up shots of a makeshift stove, broken china, and poor sanitation of cooking, Raju’s life as a proletariat is solidified. His mother constantly complains about prices of food, his paralyzed father, and his unwed sister. These are typical problems of the working class of today’s India.
Conversely, food in the presence of Virus represents the elitist Brahmin class of Indian society. In Figure 1, Virus’ daughter, Mona, is having a wedding. The cinematography and depiction of the overall surrounding environment represents individuals who live in high class, opposite to the lives of Raju and his family. Throughout the wedding feast scene, the three friends, who all crash Mona’s wedding, must wear bright pink garbs (Figure 1) in order to blend in with the rest of the attendees. In addition, the scene is adorned with blazing blue and pink lights, adding a stark contrast to the black and white scene of Raju’s home. The bright colors at the wedding reflect Virus’ extravagance, as he is wealthy enough to purchase expensive, vividly colored cloth. This contrast is directly representative of the class difference recognized between that of the wealthy Virus and the destitute Raju.
Although cinematography is an important way to signify social class in this movie, food provides a deeper understanding of stark differences in social class. In Raju’s home, food was scarce and low in quality. At the wedding, elegant food was piled in mountains awaiting magnificent wedding goers. Additionally, food was eaten chiefly with metal utensils at the wedding as opposed to with hands in Raju’s home. This utensil usage reflects societal superiority of having the affordability to use utensils, a luxury that Raju never experiences in his own home.
In 3 Idiots, food was the principle mode of class distinction. The relationship between Virus and Raju was one of differing social class, but also one of differing power. Virus had ultimate control of Raju’s future, and exemplified his life in a higher class through his abuse of power.
3 Idiots, Dir. Rajkumar Hirani. Vinod Chopra Films. 2007.