This is an immensely likable film, reportedly the highest-grossing Bollywood production in history. It’s mainly a comedy, but there are a lot of dramatic or melodramatic scenes as well and an underlying serious theme about the pressures placed on students in India by their parents and educational institutions. (Suicide is a leading cause of student death.)
The film begins a few years after graduation when a young fellow named Farhan gets a call that causes him to drop his plans, pick up his friend Raju, and go to their alma mater, the Imperial College of Engineering. There they expect to find Rancho, a close mutual friend who had disappeared immediately after graduation. Instead they are met by Chatur, an obnoxious suck-up in his student days who had made a bet with Rancho to meet at this place and time to see who had become a bigger success. Rancho is too afraid to show up, Chatur tells the others, but no matter, he has tracked him down.
So the three of them get into Chatur’s car and head off to find Rancho. As they drive, Farhan recalls what college had been like. His parents had sacrificed everything to send him to engineering school, even though he had no interest in engineering. Raju’s previously middle-class parents, a postmaster and a school teacher, were impoverished by his father’s illness and if Raju failed to become an engineer they would be trapped in poverty. Only Rancho was in school purely for love of the subject, and he didn’t mind getting himself into trouble by asking teachers hard questions, by scorning rote learning, and by caring only slightly about grades (though he ends up acing exams anyway).
The school’s rigid director is one Viru Sahastrabudhhe (“Virus” to the students), a man whose shirts have a Velcro seal to make dressing faster and who’s shaved by his valet during his daily 7.5-minute power nap. (To be clear, it’s Virus who’s napping during the shave, not the valet.) Virus can’t stand the free-spirited Rancho, but Rancho has the highest grades in the school, so he can’t easily be got rid of.
Meanwhile Rancho meets a female medical student named Pia and helpfully shows her that a couple of guys she likes are shallow jerks, which makes her more annoyed than grateful. Gradually, of course, she falls in love with Rancho, and she too is shocked when he vanishes after graduating at the top of his class.
The story then returns to the present, with the plot taking yet more sharp twists and leading to a climax near the northernmost tip of India, where the native population is mostly Tibetan and the Himalayas are to the southeast.
The film is in a mixture of Hindi and English, to the point that characters routinely switch languages in mid-sentence. The obnoxious Chatur understands Hindi reasonably well, but since he was born and grew up outside the country he’s not fluent and usually speaks English. So when he delivers a rote memorized speech in Hindi, one he hired the school librarian to write for him, Rancho treats it as an opportunity to demonstrate the shortcomings of rote learning by replacing a couple of words in the text with similar-sounding vulgarities. The result is hysterical, not least because while Virus wants to storm the stage and throttle Chatur, the Minister for Education sitting next to him holds him back because it’s way too funny.
In keeping with Bollywood tradition there are a couple of big song-and-dance numbers, both of them a lot of fun.
Incidentally, despite fart jokes, vulgar speeches, suggestive dancing, male students in their underwear, and the obligatory musical scene that manages to get the heroine’s sari soaking wet while she bumps like a burlesque dancer — despite all that risqué stuff — on-screen on-the-mouth kissing is deemed too naughty to show in Indian cinema, even if the lips are kept closed. You think the hero and heroine are about to kiss, and one or both of them pucker up and lean in, but something happens in the nick of time to protect the audience’s sensitivities. I’m reminded of Baptists who won’t have sex standing up for fear someone will think they’re dancing.
A few plot developments are so contrived as to push things into melodrama, but never mind that; it’s just a really entertaining film.
I wasn’t able to find a trailer with English subtitles, but below are a couple of trailers in a mix of Hindi and English followed by a selection of music from the film. Update 2019 January 30: I just noticed, however, that if you click the CC (closed caption) button, YouTube will helpfully try to interpret the Hindi as English, with reasonably comical results.)
You might not want to sit all the way through the music below, and if not I recommend skipping ahead to 11 minutes and 55 seconds, which leads into my favorite song and production number from the film: