The film revolves around three students studying in the Imperial College of Engineering in Delhi. One of them, Raju Rastogi (portrayed by Sharman Joshi), comes from a poor family and is desperate to pass and get a good job. The second, Farhan Qureshi (R. Madhavan), comes from a middle-class family, but has pursued engineering to please his father, while he actually wants to become a wildlife photographer. Their third roommate, Ranchoddas Shamaldas Chanchhad (Aamir Khan) is a stunningly intelligent, radical-thinking young man, who challenges the inhumane educational system and stifling society with every step he takes, infuriating the director of the school, Viru Sahastrabuddhe (Boman Irani), and the director's daughter, Pia (Kareena Kapoor).
Farhan and Raju lose contact with Rancho after graduation. Ten years afterwards, Farhan gets a call from an old classmate of theirs, Chatur Ramalingam (Omi Vaidya), who says he has found out where Rancho is. Abandoning everything, Farhan and Raju accompany Chatur and set out on a road trip to find him. But all is not as it seems...
In 2017 it received a Foreign Remake in Mexico called "3 Idiotas" starring Alfonso Dosal as Pancho (Rancho), Christian Vázquez as Felipe (Farhan), Germán Valdés as Beto (Raju) and Martha Higareda as Mariana (Pia).
Underneath its humor, the film was a social commentary on the cutthroat educational system and societal pressure, but it also has a strong message of how life is worth living for. Not to mention, the film contains several major twists and surprises, so if you have any interest in seeing this film and have not yet done so, it is strongly advised that you do not read any further.
- Alliterative Name: Raju Rastogi. Also Man Mohan aka Millimeter.
- Always Second Best: Chatur to Rancho.
- Anchored Ship: Rancho and Pia during their college days. Although Rancho has feelings for Pia, his use of a fake identity prevents him from returning her affections. Fortunately, they are reunited at the end.
- Anger Born of Worry: Pia, Farhan, and Raju understandably go all violent after reuniting with Rancho. Pia slaps him before kissing him after Rancho reaffirmes his feelings for her. Meanwhile, Farhan and Raju get physically confrontational with their long-lost friend to release their pent-up frustrations at him cutting off all contact with until those feelings are finally replaced with happiness and they share a big hug together.
- The Antagonist: Downplayed with Chatur. While he dislikes the main trio over their opposing philosophies, he doesn't do anything to impede their progress, and to be fair, the trio did fire the first shot that invoked Chatur's hatred towards them in the first place (e.g. the Teachers' Day incident). Played straight with Virus, who does everything to bring the trio down at any opportunity.
- Arc Words:
- "All is well". This serves as somehow a Survival Mantra for the trio, especially if they're facing pressuring situations. In the climax of the movie, saying these words even helps awaken an apparently stillborn baby!
- "Don't chase success. Pursue excellence and success will chase you."
- "Life is a race. If you don't run fast, you'll be trampled."
- Arranged Marriage: Not stated outright, but Pia's relationship with Suhas doesn't seem to be entirely voluntary. Even before she gets fed up by his materialistic nature and dumps him, she doesn't particularly enjoy his company when the two are attending Mona's wedding. She does break up with him with minimal furor, so... (though her family might never know about the breakup and assume the two only have a fight) In the future, she has few regrets leaving him and their almost-wedding to find Rancho.
- Artifact Alias: Even after it's known that Rancho's true name isn't Rancho at all, Farhan and Raju still call their old friend by his false name. Their fellow "idiot" still responds accordingly.
- Artistic License – Cars: Chatur shows off his possessions since his job abroad, including his "new Lamborghini, 6496cc, very fast". He refers to the Murcielago. What he shows on his phone, however, is the Diablo, a decade-old Lamborghini, a thousand cc's smaller, and not so fast.
- Ashes to Crashes: Farhan and Raju almost do this with the ashes of the father of the real Ranchoddas Shamaldas Chanchhad while attempting to find Rancho's whereabouts. Turns out they take the wrong urn.
- The B Grade: Chatur hates being Always Second Best to Rancho.
- Because You Were Nice to Me: Since Rancho, Farhan, and Raju treated him kindly for helping them and Rancho even encouraged him to study, Millimeter seems to be close to the trio enough to accompany them during their expulsion after Rancho and Farhan were caught by Virus stealing the exam paper on behalf of Raju. And he seems to know Rancho's true identity in the present scenes since he works for him as his assistant.
- Best Friends: It's clear that the eponymous trio are this, both in the narrative and chronological timeline.
- Best Friends-in-Law: While it's ultimately not played straight, Raju has some hopes in this. The impetus that finally wakes him up from his coma is Rancho lying that his sister is marrying Farhan.
- The Bet: There are two bets in this movie:
- After Rancho embarrasses Chatur on Teacher's Day by editing his speech and making it offensive with Chatur mindlessly memorizing it, Chatur makes a bet with him on who will be more successful in the future in order to recover his wounded ego. It's not taken seriously by Rancho at the time, but it instigates the search for him in the present day. Rancho wins, by virtue of being the famous scientist Chatur's company is seeking a contract with, much to Chatur's horror.
- Back in their college days while taking a class picture with Virus, Rancho declares that his friends will get a job. Virus scoffs at that declaration, knowing that Farhan and Raju are dead lasts in the class ranking. Furthermore, he calls Govind, his assistant, to shave his mustache if anyone of the two gets a job. Which Govind does when Raju successfully lands a job in his interview despite his low grades.
- Bilingual Bonus:
- Many puns in the film rely on a knowledge of both Hindi and English. As an example, while describing Raju's move to Chatur's room, Farhan makes a pun between the Hindi/Urdu word safar (meaning "travel") and the English word 'suffer', since both words sound similar.
- Another example is when an inebriated Farhan defaces Virus's nameplate and turns it into "Viru S buddhe". Buddhe is a semi-impolite way of referring to an elderly person.
- "Blind Idiot" Translation: In-Universe. Due to Chatur's poor Hindi as a result of being born and raised in Uganda, his translation makes his warning regarding the senior's intent of pissing on Rancho sound really silly. An English equivalent:Chatur: Pray undress, or he'll do... urine expulsion on you.
Senior: [He] calls pissing, "urine expulsion"! A true linguist in the land of engineers!
- Born During a Storm: Mona goes into labor during a stormy night. Pia is unable to directly assist her sister's birth due to leaving the house after a fight with her father and Virus is unable to bring Mona to the hospital because of the streets being flooded. The storm also presents complications due to power outage, forcing the trio and their fellow students to grab lots of car batteries to power the common room, the computer to communicate with Pia via video conference for her to relay instructions, and most importantly the improvised ventouse. After Mona successfully gives birth, the weather turns sunny again.
- Brick Joke:
- The hazing ritual, where freshmen strip to their underwear and offer their butts to seniors for submission. In a heartwarming spin, Farhan and Raju did this when they successfully completed their part of the bet with Rancho by convincing his father to let him pursue photography (Farhan) and landing a job simply by being himself (Raju). In a hilarious spin, when Rancho's real name is revealed as Phunsukh Wangdu, Chatur's dawning realization that he just insulted the very guy he wanted to sign a pivotal deal with for his company and that said guy is about to call off the deal spurs him to perform the ritual to appease Phunsukh.
- Rancho fends off a senior threatening to pee on his (and Farhan and Raju's) dorm room by conducting electricity through the senior's urine. A decade later, Rancho's students pull the same prank on Chatur.
- Virus sarcastically makes a deal that if Farhan or Raju manages to get a job before the final exam, he'll shave his beard. Much to his dismay, he does, because Raju landed a job during his interview. Despite his initial opposition, he actually decides to stay shaved all the way to the future, no less.
- Rancho's dream in which he and Pia ends in an Almost Kiss and then he wakes up. Ten years later, the dream scene plays out almost exactly... but ends with a slap from Pia. After confirming that Rancho still loves Pia, the trope finally plays is straight via The Big Damn Kiss. Pia even notes how noses don't collide when kissing, dismissing Rancho's claims of why he couldn't kiss her.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Rancho, infuriatingly so. This reaches the point where Virus tries on multiple occasions to kick him out, but can't since Rancho is his top student. And ultimately revokes his decision when he finally does.
- The Cake Is a Lie: Virus challenges Rancho to teach his engineering class. Rancho has the students define a fictitious term to make a point about the proper method of teaching, by emphasizing how the students are just mindlessly memorizing the topic without understanding it at all.
- Call-Forward: At the beginning of the film, Chatur offers rum to Farhan and Raju. A scene in their college years shows the trio drinking to it.
- Candid Camera Prank:
- The film begins with one such prank by Farhan via faking a heart attack, forcing the plane he's currently into to abort the flight.
- Two pranks within one. Chatur gets the librarian to write a speech for him to recite on Teacher's Day. Rancho and Farhan divert both Chatur (with a prank phone call) and the librarian (by telling him Virus was "remembering" him, which he understood as Virus calling him over), then changed some of the words in the speech. Chatur didn't even bother to ask for the speech's translation and blindly memorized it, not knowing that it's full of vulgarity. Hilarity Ensues.
- Catchphrase: Rancho's "All is Well", which is also the film's Arc Words.
- Celibate Hero: Rancho, to the point where even upon becoming a successful inventor and educator, he continues to love Pia even though he makes no attempt to contact her. Which is quite justified, considering The Reveal.
- Chekhov's Boomerang: Virus' son, who failed to enter the Imperial College four times, is mentioned during the opening ceremony as a quick joke to establish Virus' Sadist Teacher persona. Then he's mentioned midway during Virus' Kick the Dog moment against Joy that leads to the latter's suicide. Finally, in the climax, Pia brings up her brother's death — actually suicide by pressure because he wanted to become a writer, not an engineer — as part of her "The Reason You Suck" Speech against her father, leading her to storm out of the house and making her unable to help Mona give birth. Had the trio already left ICE before they saw Mona in labor inside the car, Virus' actions against Raju to have him expelled out of petty revenge due to losing the bet with Rancho might've been one hell of a Laser-Guided Karma.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- Rancho made an inverter that could draw out power from car batteries named after Virus in an attempt to get out of Pia's wedding. It ended up being helpful after the power outage, as the inverter is used alongside the car batteries to power the common room and the improvised ventouse for Mona's birth.
- Also, whenever Rancho said the Arc Words to Mona while she was pregnant, the baby kicked. Guess what woke up the stillborn baby?
- The mint sauce. It was first used by Rancho on Suhas' shoes to show his shallow and gaudy personality to Pia. It's later used by Raju for the same purpose (to show Pia that Suhas' personality hasn't changed) and also to distract Suhas long enough for Farhan and Raju to flee with Pia.
- The Fischer Space Pen, which Virus promised to give to a deserving student and which prompted Rancho to ask why a pencil wasn't used instead, which Virus can't answer. Months before graduation, Virus finally answers the question (broken pencil lead can cause all sorts of problems in a zero-gravity environment) as he gives the pen to Rancho, acknowledging him as a worthy student.
- Chekhov's Gunman:
- Phunsuk Wangdu, the famous scientist Chatur is hoping to strike a deal with, turns out to be Rancho's real name.
- On his first day, Rancho was being threatened that a senior would piss on his door. He pulls a McGyver and conducts a current to a spoon, which conducts to the senior's urine. His future students do the same thing when Chatur tries to pee on their building's wall.
- Class Clown: Rancho, mostly since his way of thinking doesn't translate well with his straitlaced and narrow-minded professors of ICE.
- Cool Big Sis: Mona to Pia.
- Comeback Tomorrow: In a much-delayed answer to Rancho's question about the Fischer Space Pen (why didn't they use a pencil), four years later, after Rancho saves Virus' stillborn grandson, Virus replies that when a pencil lead breaks in zero gravity onboard spaceships, the graphite fragments can get into astronauts' eyes, and cause short circuits in the instruments. This symbolizes how Virus and Rancho are similar in so many ways in regards of upholding their philosophies, that the former can't be wrong all the time just as the latter can't be right all the time.
- Cool Teacher: Rancho ultimately becomes one. He teaches kids whenever he takes a rest from his research.
- Create Your Own Villain: If Rancho didn't humiliate Chatur, the latter would have just left him alone. However, if Rancho didn't do that, the plot of finding him wouldn't happen because Chatur wanted to settle their rivalry. Farhan and Raju didn't manage to find Rancho for many years so they tag along with Chatur, and along their way, find clues about their friend's true identity.
- Dartboard of Hate: During the Jaane Nahin Denge Tuhje number, Rancho, Farhan and the rest of the engineering students have this with Virus' face on the dartboard in an effort to lift the spirits of a paralyzed Raju after his attempted suicide.
- Dating What Daddy Hates: Pia with Rancho. Virus absolutely loathes him.
- Deadpan Snarker: Almost everyone puts some jabs in.
- Deliberately Monochrome: Scenes set in Raju's house in the chronological timeline, which "came out straight from a 50's film", are black-and-white. It is to emphasize how poor the Rastogis are.
- Delivery Guy: Rancho, when he not only delivers Mona's baby, but builds a vacuum extractor out of a vacuum cleaner and spare parts, to aid the birth. All the men in the dorm help build it and get the electricity going. So arguably, they all have the role of delivery guy.
- Disney Death: Happens to Mona's newborn son.
- Disposable Fiancé: Suhas, because he's a materialistic Jerkass. Pia apparently reconciles with him ten years later after graduation, only to end up leaving him at the altar.
- Dope Slap: Given to Chatur by Virus after the former recites the Teacher's Day speech edited by Rancho to make it sound offensive. Particularly the Sanskrit Verse at the end of the speech which is dedicated to Chatur's recurring farts thanks to his memorization pills.
- Driven to Suicide:
- Joy, a senior of the trio during their freshmen year, after being told he won't graduate due to missing a project deadline despite having a justifiable reason (his father needed help after a stroke).
- Later, Raju did it as well when he was unwilling to choose between betraying his friends or letting his family down. Fortunately, he was saved.
- In the backstory, Virus's eldest son.
- Driving Question: What becomes of Rancho and where is he now? Before this question is to be answered, here is another important question: why did Rancho disappear shortly after graduation without any communication with his closest friends for a decade?
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Rancho's key philosophy throughout the film is that people should pursue their passions to excellence, to chase happiness and success will follow, without others dictating them. Indeed, Farhan faces great difficulty in convincing his parents that he wants to become a wildlife photographer, but he succeeds and goes on to get published. Raju faces depression and anxiety over his predicament, to the point where he is driven to suicide, but he emerges stable and married. As for Rancho/Phunsukh, has to abandon all his closest friends and virtually start from scratch upon getting a degree for his namesake; he is nevertheless able to become a successful, patented inventor and educator. And many years later to adulthood, he is finally reunited with his True Companions and his Love Interest who are clearly accepting after learning everything about him.
- The Engineer: Many characters in the film aspire to be one, if only to impress their families and society.
- Evil Gloating: Chatur loves this.
- At the beginning of the movie, he shows off his mansion, car, job etc. to Farhan and Raju. Well, it's not really evil, so much as just 'I'm more successful than you despite the fact that you scored better'.
- He does this again to Rancho at the end of the movie, before he learns that Rancho is Phunsukh Wangdu, the very man his company is going to sign a deal with. Oh, Crap! isn't enough to describe his horror upon realizing it.
- Expospeak Gag: Invoked as an indirect form of Ironic Echo. During the "What is a machine?" scene, Chatur recites the textbook definition of a machine in response to the professor telling Rancho to define a machine (which he does, but in layman's terms), and Rancho is told to Get Out! for questioning ICE's teaching methods. Cue this interaction:Professor: So we were discussing the machine…
(Rancho turns back and walks back into the classroom)
Professor: Why're you back?
Rancho: I forgot something.
Rancho: Instruments that record, analyse, summarize, organize, debate, and explain information which are illustrative, non-illustrative, hardbound, paperback, jacketed, non-jacketed, with forward introduction, table of contents, index that are intended for the enlightenment, understanding, enrichment, enhancement, and education of the human brain through sensory root of vision… sometimes touch.
(Cue Stunned Silence from the rest of the class)
Professor: What do you mean?
Rancho: Books, sir.
(Most of the class starts laughing)
Rancho: I forgot my books. May I?
Professor: Couldn't you ask simply?
Rancho: I tried earlier, sir. It simply didn't work.
(The class, Chatur excluded, laughs even harder)
- Filmi Music: All of the characters' musical numbers occur during the various Flashback B-Plots.
- Foregone Conclusion: The titular trio are known to have graduated and are living comfortable lives in the present day. So when Raju attempts suicide or Virus expels the trio for trying to get the answers to his rigged exam, the viewers know that they will make it out fine.
- Foreshadowing: Raju's (thankfully failed) suicide attempt is foreshadowed multiple times. The first is Rancho and Farhan jokingly giving him a little nudge off the edge of a building in brief scene for the All Is Well number, then later on during a scene where the camera is lingering on Raju as he drunkenly jumps out of Pia and Mona's bedroom window. His later suicide attempt is by jumping out of a window.
- Another moment is when the trio is eating at Raju's house. His mother is constantly complaining about prices because of the family's low income. When Raju has enough and tells her to quiet down, she voices her frustration about working and now having to "take the vow of silence", to which Raju storms out in frustration and his mother breaks down into tears. Farhan narrates that he and Rancho were in a dilemma: do they console their friend or his family? They decide not to do anything about it. This foreshadows the Sadistic Choice Virus sets upon Raju: sell out his friend Rancho on that night or accept his punishment and break his family's heart and hopes. Raju cannot chose and thus throws himself out of a window to escape his dilemma.
- Five Temperament Ensemble: Amongst the five main characters: Rancho is Sanguine, Farhan is Supine, Raju is Phlegmatic, Pia is Melancholic, and Chatur is Choleric.
- Framing Device: The film's events are interspersed between two timelines: the trio's time at college narrated by Farhan; and in the present times of which Farhan, Raju, Chatur and later Pia travel across northern India to find and locate Rancho.
- Freudian Excuse: Subverted with Virus. At first, it seems that the reason he's so angry all the time is because his son was Driven to Suicide after failing to get admission into ICE, but then at the end, it's revealed that Virus was always like this and his son died from suicide because Virus crushed his dreams of becoming a writer. However, he believed his son's death was a tragic accident partly in an effort to evade the truth that even his life philosophy is flawed, especially when Rancho bested him at the final year in his college days. Realizing this is a major part of his later Heel Realization.
- Freudian Trio:
- Rancho is Id. He is a headstrong, brave, and emotional individual who wants his peers to follow their hearts rather than what others and the society expect of them. Sometimes, he bites off more than he chew with his rebellious actions that could possibly blow up his real identity, as well as failing to know the flaw of his logic in using a pencil instead of a space pen in a zero-gravity environment, which can be dangerous. Overall though, he is a well-intentioned individual.
- Farhan is Ego. He balances Rancho's tendency to break the rules while at the same time knowing the risks like Raju and usually play it safe, and is the first one who takes Rancho's ideals to heart. Fitting for being the narrator telling the film from his POV.
- Raju is Superego. He likes organization and stability, and is more down-to-earth compared to Rancho. Raju and Rancho have the usual conflict between their differing personalities, leading to their Plot-Mandated Friendship Failure while Farhan mediates things between the two. Raju's tendency to stick to the rules is what negates him from stepping outside his comfort zone due of his fear of failure and the future until his Character Development.
- Gasshole: Chatur, oh so much. This becomes a Running Gag and earns him the Embarrassing Nickname "Silencer".
- Gratuitous English:
- Chatur, again."Sir, I was born in Uganda. Studied in Pondicherry.. so, little slow in Hindi."
- Also "FARHAN-itrate" and "Pre-RAJU-lisation".
- Chatur, again.
- Gilligan Cut:Pia: No, Farhan, it's not like that. Suhas is a changed man. He doesn't talk about brands or prices anymore.
(cut to Suhas screaming)
Suhas: MY 1.5 LAKH SHERWANI! My $3000 suit!
- Gray Rain of Depression: It is raining during Joy Lobo's funeral, the senior who died from suicide and another victim of Virus' harsh and unfair doctrine.
- Groin Attack: Rancho delivers an electrifying one to a senior in college. A decade later, Rancho's students do the same to Chatur.
- Hospital Hottie: Pia, who is a med student. She works at the hospital at Delhi in the present timeline.
- How We Got Here: The movie intersperses the search for Rancho with shots of the main characters' college life and their Character Development.
- I Ate WHAT?!: While Farhan and Rancho are eating the roti made by Raju's mother, Raju's paralyzed father suddenly starts making sounds asking to be scratched. Raju's mother uses the same rolling pin she was making roti with to scratch her husband's chest, and the audience is treated to a shot of chest hair still on the rolling pin as she starts flattening another roti. Farhan and Rancho are gagging at the sight and when their friend's mother asks if they want more roti, they are quick to turn it down.
- I Have Many Names: The impostor known as Ranchoddas Shyamaldas Chanchad is referred to as "Chhote" by his employers, the Chanchad family, while his real name is the famous scientist Phunsukh Wangdu.
- I Have Your Wife: That's how Farhan and Raju subdue the real Ranchoddas Chanchad — by grabbing the urn containing his deceased father's ashes.
- Improbable Infant Survival: Pia's nephew was thought dead, but Rancho's Catchphrase revives him!]]
- In-Series Nickname: "Silencer" for Chatur, "Virus" for Prof. Viru Sahastrabuddhe, "Chhote" for the fake Rancho AKA Phunsukh Wangdu.
- Ironic Echo: "Hey... Take That!" A few minutes after Chatur insults the reunited trio, it immediately bites him in the ass in the ending when he learns who is Phunsukh Wangdu. Farhan and Raju waste no time throwing all of Chatur's insults against them back in his face.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
- The real Ranchoddas Shyamaldas Chanchad. He points a gun at Farhan and Raju when they discover that he pocketed the degree that their friend studied for under his name. However, it turns out that he truly regrets his behavior that forced his father to use the impostor in order to protect their family from shame and spare his son from society's insults he himself received. Knowing that Farhan and Raju are the friends that his servant's been speaking of fondly, he gives them his impostor's address as a way to thank his former employee for his efforts.
- In the narrative timeline, while Virus is understandably pissed that Raju gatecrashed his daughter's wedding like what he did back when he was a student, it's quite benevolent that he didn't blow up and instead let his eldest daughter Mona restrain him. He also seems to let Pia go after she decides to call off the wedding, if not a bit done dealing with the madness that the eponymous trio cast upon him.
- Just Plane Wrong: The Airbus A321 in the opening scene:
- It has a different registration number on either side of its fuselage. Then, in a view from right under the aircraft, when the landing gear come out, each bogie has two axles, while shots from a distance show one axle for each bogie.
- The aircraft on the runway is clearly a narrow-body Airbus A321, but the cabin scenes were shot in a wide-body Boeing 777.
- Left the Background Music On: When Pia decides to call off her wedding and run off with Raju and Farhan to reunite with Rancho, music starts playing as Farhan, Raju, Pia, and a bound Chatur take off in their car while the guests and Pia's family look on, only for Virus to stop the music in annoyance by covering the horn that one of the wedding's musicians was playing.
- Lemony Narrator: Farhan narrates the past events of the film. And like the rest of the cast, he really squeezes the lemon dry with his wit.
- Loophole Abuse: The trio arrives late to a test and finishes late and the proctor refuses to accept the late tests. After confirming that the proctor doesn't know their names, Rancho shuffles their tests in with all the other tests and the trio runs off, meaning the tests have to be graded since the proctor can't tell which tests are theirs.
- Love at First Sight: Heavily implied when Rancho first encounters Pia after he and his friends crash her sister's (and Virus' eldest daughter's) wedding.
- The Maiden Name Debate: Played for Laughs. Pia loves Rancho, but she wants to keep her maiden name if they get married since Chanchad is weird (at least in her opinion). She feels the same upon learning of his true name.
- Manly Tears: All doubling as Tears of Joy.
- Rancho when he makes up with Raju after taking his father to a hospital. He also sheds these when he learns of Farhan dropping school in favor of a photography retreat and Raju's successful job interview. The dude loves his friends so much.
- Almost every single engineering student including the eponymous trio who are present during the birth of Mona's child. Justified, as they thought that the child is stillborn. Later, Virus sheds these when his grandson is delivered, and when he finally acknowledges Rancho as a worthy student.
- Mathematician's Answer: When Virus asks Raju where he was on the night that the trio broke into his house and pissed on his doorway, Rancho covers and tells him that Raju was studying about induction motors all night. When Virus asks Raju to demonstrate how an induction motor starts, Raju responds by letting out a sound of a motor running: "BRR-BRR-BRHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! BRHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"
- Meaningful Echo: "Every night you ride into my dreams on a scooter, dressed as a bride. Instead of a veil, you lifted your helmet and come close to kiss me."
- Mind Screw: Just WHO is Ranchoddas Shamaldas Chanchhad anyway? A rich scion who conferred his name to his servant, so that he could pocket a degree without exerting anything.
- Mood Whiplash:
- The trio are leading the college in "Aal Izz Well" and trying to rebuild the helicopter design of a friend, Joy. At the end of the song, they finally build it, stick a camera on it and fly it up to his room window only to see... Joy hanging from the ceiling, having died from suicide and the words "I QUIT" written on the wall in spray-paint.
- There's also the scene where the trio visit the Sahastrabuddhe's residence so Rancho can confess his love for Pia. The drunk Farhan and Raju pee on the front door and laugh it off as they escape with Rancho towards the school, where they oversleep. Then it's followed by Virus expelling Raju, causing the latter's (failed) suicide attempt.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Viru "Virus" Sahastrabuddhe.
- Never Learned to Read: Shamaldas Chanchad, the father of the real Ranchoddas, reveals this about himself in a flashback as a justification for using his servant Chhote to get a degree for his son, since with all of his prestige, people laugh behind his back and he doesn't want his son to endure the same ridicule.
- The Nicknamer:
- Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Rancho ultimately becomes both a scientist and a teacher.
- Non P.O.V. Protagonist: Rancho is the primary focus of the story, but Fahran is the narrator. This has the natural side effect of making Rancho rather enigmatic, which ties into the present day plotline of his friends searching for him.
- "Number of Objects" Title: 3 Idiots.
- Oh, Crap!: Chatur, in the end, has this reaction when he realizes that Phunsukh Wangdu, the scientist he was looking to secure a lucrative business deal with in the present day, is none other than his old college nemesis, Rancho, who he had earlier mocked to his face about being a schoolteacher.
- Old Maid: Raju's elder sister is twenty-eight and unmarried, a major cause of worry for their mother.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Viru Sahastrabuddhe is always called Virus. The Hero's fake Overly Long Name is shortened to Rancho. Also, there's the Tagalong Kid Man Mohan, who is always called Millimeter.
- Overly Long Name: Ranchoddas Shamaldas Chanchad.
- Perpetual Poverty: Raju. He seems to have grown out of this by the present, given how he's introduced living in a well-furnished house befitting for a wealthy executive.
- Plot-Mandated Friendship Failure: Raju briefly has this when Virus threatens to expel him if he continues to be friends with Rancho. He moves to Chatur's dorm room for several weeks and avoids Farhan and Rancho, even when he finds their sabotage of Chatur's speech Actually Pretty Funny. Then Rancho risks breaking the law to take Raju's sick father to the hospital onboard a motorcycle. Cue a tearful Man Hug and Raju deciding to stick it to the man in favor of having a real friendship with Rancho.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Alongside Calling the Old Man Out, Pia gives her father a well-deserved one after he expels the trio, confessing that she had a hand in their expulsion by giving them the key to his office at ICE and wishes she did the same with her elder brother. Pia points out every single flaw of her father's philosophy that led two men to die, including his own son, because Virus didn't care about their feelings other than their desire for validation and adherence to his philosophy, no matter how flawed it is. To top it off, Pia calls her their deaths murder, not suicide, implying that she does see her father as her brother's killer, leaving Virus deeply shaken as Pia storms out.
- The Reveal: Several ones, but the biggest one is that the Rancho that Farhan and Raju know throughout their years at Imperial College of Engineering isn't really the real Rancho. He is just a servant named Phunsukh Wangdu/Chhote who was being ordered by his employer to pose as his son (the real Rancho) in order to pocket the degree in his name, which he agreed to due to his strong desire to study. This act of impersonation explains why he disappears from his best friends' lives shortly after his graduation. His fate in the present timeline is being a schoolteacher in Ladakh, alongside being a famous scientist and a business magnate.
- Right Behind You : Precisely how the Comic Trio find Pia's father is none other than Virus.
- Runaway Bride: Farhan and Raju steal Pia away from her wedding to Suhas. Pia is initially reluctant, until Farhan's point of how Suhas isn't changed at all and Raju's Armor-Piercing Question finally lead her to run away on her own voliton.
- Sadist Teacher: Viru "Virus" Sahastrabuddhe. The pressure he placed on his students was so reprehensible, it pushed three men to be Driven to Suicide, one of them being his own son and later Raju.
- Saved by Canon: Viewers know that Raju will survive his suicide and recover physically and psychologically since he's alive and well in the present day scenes.
- Screaming Birth: The trio and the volunteer engineering students help deliver the baby of Mona Sahastrabuddhe, Virus' eldest daughter, in the university storeroom using an inverter, a vacuum cleaner and a car battery to provide power and construct a vacuum pump after she's too tired to push anymore.
- Second Place Is for Losers:
- An idea of Virus's "life is a race" philosophy that he teaches to his students. One speech he gives to the students is asking who was the first man to go on the moon, to which the students easily answer Neil Armstrong. He then asks who was the second man, which nobody knows. Virus declares that he is not important and "nobody remembers who is second."
- Chatur is also incredibly upset to score second highest on the exam, under Rancho.
- Secretly Wealthy: Rancho, whose father's monthly income is apparently two and a half crore rupees.note It's not actually his family's, but Rancho still ends up rich by his own means ten years later.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Invoked when one of the teachers seems more impressed by Chatur giving an overly complicated definition of the word 'machine' memorized from a textbook instead of Rancho's simplified one, so in response, Rancho gives one himself when wanting to go collect his books.
- Silly Love Song: Zoobi Doobi, which doubles as Pia's Love Epiphany towards Rancho after she lets go of her negative reception towards him.
- Skewed Priorities: Farhan and Raju are both shocked to learn that Rancho/Chhote's real name is Phunsukh Wangdu and ask confirmation whether he happens to be the same great scientist that Chatur was talking about with over 400 patents. Meanwhile, Pia is in a panic stating she doesn't like having her name changed to Pia Wangdu after marrying him.
- Slap-Slap-Kiss: Pia angrily smacks Rancho near the end of the movie after thinking she was played and was worried that something bad happened to him. Followed by The Big Damn Kiss and Reunion Kiss after Rancho says otherwise.
- Shipper on Deck: Mona, Farhan and Raju all support Rancho/Pia.
- Small Role, Big Impact: Joy Lobo, a senior engineering student during the trio's early years at ICE and heavily implied to be admired by Rancho due to their shared passion for machines, to the point that Rancho feels depressed by Joy's suicide. Virus' unfair treatment of Joy that lead to his death prompts the mostly one-sided enmity between Rancho and Virus over their clashing philosophies about education in ICE, which Rancho deems to be inhumane and nonconductive for teaching and learning. While Rancho shoots the message and not the messenger himself, it becomes a personal vendetta for Virus, who does everything in his power to bring the trio down by all means necessary.
- Smug Snake:
- Chatur in the present-day portions of the movie. Until he's promptly shut up in the climax.
- The Minister invited for the Teacher's Day function at the college. When Chatur is talking about Virus in the Teacher's Day speech, he's laughing his ass off at Virus being called as a screwer/rapist and even preventing the latter from interrupting. Until Chatur starts talking about the Minister himself...
- The real Ranchoddas Shamaldas Chanchad, who pocketed an engineering degree by foul means, and almost gunned down Farhan and Raju. Until they got the better of him.
- Supporting Protagonist: Farhan is the narrator, but the film is all about Rancho, even if Farhan does play a big part. He tells the story in order to explain why they're more than willing to risk everything just to find their other friend who disappeared without a trace after their graduation.
- Tagalong Kid: Millimeter.
- Teen Genius: Rancho and Chatur, especially the former. The latter admitted that he didn't study to enjoy science (or engineering in particular).
- Theme Naming: Millimeter and his dogs Gigabyte, Kilobyte and Megabyte.Millimeter: Don't worry, none of them bite.
- Token Evil Teammate: More like Token Jerkass. Chatur serves as one during the present day scenes.
- Traveling at the Speed of Plot: The present timeline started around eight in the morning from Delhi to Shimla, which will take almost eight hours. When they arrive, it looks like it is still morning and they don't even take time to take a rest. Then after The Reveal, they set forth for Ladakh (from Shimla, it will take eighteen hours) but went to Manali first before going to Ladakh. It really take almost 24 hours, but it seems that it is still daylight during the present scenes or the viewers didn't see Farhan, Raju, or Chatur taking a break so this trope is still there.
- True Companions: The eponymous trio. So much that Farhan and Raju travel from Delhi to Shimla (a whole state away), only to realize that a Red Herring led them there and Rancho is really in Ladakh (which is a cold and barren desert, another couple of states away). They don't stop until they find him. And they quickly turn the car around and drive to Manali, 255km away and a six-hour drive in the other direction, after hearing that Pia is getting married to stop the wedding and steal the bride before going to Ladakh.
- The opening scene already shows how close-knit two of the trio are, even if Rancho, the very person that binds them together, is gone for a decade: Farhan is on a flight about to take off when he receives news that Rancho has been found. He fakes a heart attack to force the plane to land. After bolting out of the airport, he hijacks a taxi to fetch Raju, who jumps on without wearing pants and also shows the same excitement as Farhan at the opportunity of seeing Rancho again.
- In the college flashbacks, Farhan and Rancho risk expulsion to steal the exam papers from Virus's office for Raju. And before that, their crushing grief and later dedication to help Raju recover after his suicide.
- During their confrontation against the real Ranchodas, Farhan and Raju are clearly scared out of their wits of being held at gunpoint, but their desire to uncover the truth in regards to their Best Friend outweighs that fear enough to steal the urn that contains the ashes of Ranchodas' father as a hostage. They are also shown to be accepting to the revelation that their best friend's an impostor.
- Two Aliases, One Character: The impostor known as "Ranchodas Chanchad" (the servant of the Chanchad family and Farhan and Raju's long-lost best friend) and Phunsukh Wangdu (the scientist that Chatur wants to sign an important deal for his business) are the same person. Phunsukh Wangdu is actually his true name.
- Übermensch: Rancho openly defies all the systems of his university from day one, starting from standing up against an abusive senior up to clashing with the director himself. And he's a brilliant enough student to pull it off.
- The Ugly Guy's Hot Daughter: Mentioned by Rancho when flirting with Pia, saying that her mother must've been so beautiful, because Pia is and... well, her dad isn't what you'd call handsome.
- Unknown Rival: Chatur has always been hell-bent on defeating Rancho, but always fails. Rancho doesn't seems to care about Chatur though. He's attending ICE to learn, not to compete.
- Walking Spoiler: Two walking spoilers, in fact. It is impossible to further discuss Rancho, the long-lost college friend of Farhan and Raju, without spoiling the fact that he is an impostor of the original Ranchodas Chanchad. Furthermore, the one who claims himself as Ranchodas Chanchad at Shimla is actually the real deal. This impersonation pretty much explains why the impostor cuts off all contact with his two closest friends and Pia.
- Wardrobe Wound: Rancho inflicts this on Pia's fiancé, Suhas, to show her how vain he is. Later used a second time by pretending Pia lost the watch Suhas bought her. In the future, Raju continues the tradition by ruining his wedding robe. Knowing that Farhan failed in convincing Pia to elope due to her being kept in the dark about Rancho and his sudden disappearance leaving her wondering whether their relationship was just a dalliance to him, Raju uses the stained wedding robes and poses as the groom to convince Pia himself.
- "Well Done, Son" Guy:
- The song "Give Me Some Sunshine" is this.
- Mr. Qureshi, who is the sole reason why Farhan even bothers to enter the Imperial College. Heck, since birth he has made it his goal to see his son become an engineer. Eventually, he relents and allows Farhan to quit school and pursue the career he wants.
- Virus was and is also revealed to be one. Him pressuring his son to become an engineer instead of a writer directly caused the latter's suicide. Later, when Mona becomes pregnant with a boy, he consults an astrologist and determines that he will become an engineer. Again, he eventually softens up and decides that his grandson can become anything the latter wants.
- Wham Shot:
- The trio discovering that their senior Joy died from suicide.
- Farhan, Raju and Chatur discovering that Rancho wasn't in the class picture, and that the "fake" Rancho has been shopped in.
- Raju's attempted suicide.