Career Lessons from Indian Movies – Taare Zameen Par and 3 Idiots

Over last few months, I watched 2 Hindi movies, both by Amir Khan, which reminded me of some of the career lessons I have found useful to follow and to pass-around via my blogs and discussions. The 2 movies are Taare Zameen Par (movie review here) and 3 Idiots (movie review here). While Taare Zameen Par talks about a dyslexic kid totally misunderstood by his parents and finally salvaged by an art teacher in a boarding school, 3 Idiots is the story of 3 college students and friends as they navigate their college days and adult life with different aspirations and different interpretations of what learning and success mean.

These have been commercial successes (3 Idiots is now the highest-grossing Bollywood film of all-time), and they are great films to watch for their entertainment and inspirational values (typical Hindi movies J).

However, here are some of the lessons about career and life that these films depict very beautifully (much better than the ways I have been saying them in my blogs! J):

Taare Zameen Par

  1. Each individual is unique, with unique talents, but it requires encouragement and nurturing from the individual and environment for it to sustain – The 8-year old kid is a superb painter, but he hates school. Parents misunderstand his intentions and treat him as a mediocre kid who needs strong-arm tactics to fix his studies, never paying attention to his special needs and unique talent, even though it was this talent which was keeping him sane and engaged with life. Tortures of a boarding school killed his creativity and took away his life; and without the art teacher who took it upon himself to fix the problem (like any Hindi Movie!), he would have ended up as just another messed-up kid.
  2. Good parenting/schooling/mentoring means understanding patterns and root cause, not treating for symptoms; giving benefit of doubt, not stereotype – The kid has problems in reading/writing, but parents and schools took at as the regular attempt by kids to not study and have fun instead. They fell for the stereotype of kids who never want to study and find excuses. While it is debatable who should be more responsible for finding the root cause; neither school nor parents did it in this case.
  3. Happiness and passion comes when you do what you like and when you are good at it, not when you are forced into doing things you don’t like or are not good at – The kid loved painting, and he was good at it. So it fueled his creativity, gave him his person space to be free and happy. When he was asked to study (which he wasn’t good at, though he didn’t dislike it as we come to know later), it brought out the sense of hopelessness, passive aggression, and all the bad behaviors kids are known for. What is more, when he was forced into studies, his painting went away too and he became totally miserable. When the art teacher later helped him learn to write and read, he did OK in studies and his happiness and passion in painting returned.

3 Idiots

  • When choosing careers, aligning with strength and interest is more important than aligning with parent’s goals – With anecdotal evidences, the movie tries to make the point that it is better to choose something you like and are good at, rather than just go along with what parents and your environment choose for you. A wild-life photographer is no less happy (or well-off, at least in the movie) than an inventor or a researcher. Doing what you love gives the best return on talent investment.
  • Parents need as much education as children when choosing careers and goals – At least in India, parents are the default career counselors for most students. This is depicted very beautifully when Farhan says “I was born at 5:15, and at 5:16 my father decided I will be an engineer, and I landed up in the engineering college, without anyone asking me what I wanted to do”. If this has to change, parents need to change their approach; and parents’ buy-in need to be taken before most people pursue a career. One of the best ways the movie shows to do this is to pose the question to the individual: “40 years later, when you look back and see that taxi was waiting, offer letter for the alternate career was in hand, if only I had enough courage to talk to my parents, my life would have been different, and may be happier”, and then letting them use their own logic to convince their parents. At least in the movie, it works! J
  • Grades are poorly correlated with material success, still poorly correlated with happiness – This is a point I agree with whole-heartedly. The people who were last and second from last in the class are shown much happier in their life than the topper (second topper actually, after our protagonist!) who has tons of money but no mental peace. Of course, since this was movie, they showed Amir Khan as the guy who topped the class just on the basis of sheer brilliance. In reality, at least in the college I studied (the topmost engineering college in India), you needed to spend quite some time learning from your lecture notes to get good grades and so the ‘Rancho’ type characters were harder. However, I saw many Farhan and Raju, those whose grades were crappy, but they ended up being much more successful in their career and happier in life than so many other top-graders of my class. So while grades are important, they do not predict success in career that well.
  • If you pursue excellence, success comes along, vice-versa may not be true – This is depicted literally in the end of the movie (when ‘Chatur’, the materialistically rich guy is begging and running behind ‘Rancho’, who is an inventor and doesn’t care about money), showed in a trivial and humorous way when ‘Rancho’ replaces a few words in ‘Chatur’s speech to hilarious effects, and mentioned so many times in the movie to motivate people to understand what they learn rather than just mug up to get good grades. Of course, since this is a movie, ‘Rancho’ is the exception who learns and still gets the grades, but most of the time in most colleges, understanding and internalizing what you learn comes at the cost of good grades, and hence there is the trade-off that needs to be made. The movie also demonstrates this by talking about being well-trained (like a circus tiger who can do amazing stuff because of fear and training) vs. well-educated (who learns and applies what he learns.

Hope you enjoy the movie and the lessons there!

3 Replies to “Career Lessons from Indian Movies – Taare Zameen Par and 3 Idiots”

  1. I totally agree. A lot of my friends went to watch this movie and they loved it. Although, they only thought this because of the silliness which of course there was. However they did not see these great lessons that can be learnt from this movie. Honestly, I didn’t either but after reading all this, I remembered the certain parts of the movie that gave great advice. I especially like his paragraph about following your own dreams. Your life will be ruined if you don’t do what you really want to do. For example, what if your parents tell you, “You should become a doctor” when you have no interest in medical and science things? You forget the point of your life. You want to do something but our parents want your parents want you to do something else. That particular paragraph caught my attention. I don’t say not to listen to your parents, but just don’t let them decide your life for you. Of course they are your only guide to success during your childhood but that doesn’t mean they decide your whole life for you. This movie was definitely funny but the lessons you learnt were amazing and will follow and help you all throughout your life. Also, I agree with the third bullet which states not to be focused in your studies all the time. Sometimes studying too much can get you no where in your life and sometimes it drives you mad. I am not saying you shouldn’t study at all but don’t break your brain. These lessons are not really noticed while watching 3 idiots. Most of the times, everyone is just looking for comedy or action but these lessons are very important and you should care about them. The movie isn’t about the entertainment, but mostly about the lessons. (though this movie wouldn’t be so popular without comedy) 🙂

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