October 19, 2012
Sidharth Malhotra, Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Rishi Kapoor, Ram Kapoor, Ronit Roy, Kayoze Irani
The greatest compliment that can be paid to Karan Johar’s Student of the Year (SOTY) is that it manages to entertain despite being so superficial. SOTY lacks originality and depth, but it’s not a bad deal if you don’t mind a film that’s unmemorable-yet-fun with intermittent laughs, a couple of teardrops here and there, and an unrelenting eye-full of pretty visuals.
KJo’s latest film introduces us to three well-packaged kids: Sidharth Malhotra, Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan are good looking and well dressed with bodies that have clearly gone through the grind in the gym. As if that is not enough, she wears the teensiest of outfits displaying acres of bosom throughout and the boys obligingly take off their shirts at regular intervals. No complaints there … if you see Sid Malhotra’s abs you would not complain either! But some of it doesn’t make sense. SOTY’s St Teresa’s High School, Dehra Dun, seems to suggest that there’s nothing uncommon about a moneyed Indian school that’s a clone of schools we see in American films: where heavily made up female students sport glaringly bright lipstick and killer stillettoes without ever being pulled up by teachers; where kids are occasionally in uniform but mostly in designerwear; where a girl’s popularity is measured by her success as a cheerleader; and then, to seal the school’s hip status perhaps, they have a prom. Apparently this is all so common in India that it does not merit a comment. Sadly, this shallow school is being projected as an embodiment of cool. Equally sadly, a voiceover describes the name of the school as an angrez name. I guess there’s no point in telling prejudiced Bollywood for the millionth time that a Christian name is not an angrez name. Oh well … forget it!
Be that as it may, the story revolves around two boys: the middle-class student Abhimanyu Singh (Malhotra) has got into St Teresa’s on a sports scholarship, and Rohan Nanda (Dhawan) is the rich boy with the harsh daddy (Ram Kapoor). Also in the picture is Rohan’s girlfriend Shanaya Singhania (Bhatt), a gay principal (Rishi Kapoor) who lusts after the sports coach (Ronit Roy) and a Student of the Year trophy that has the potential to tear the kids apart. Will relationships survive the competition? Will friendships turn to romantic love?
The problems begin with the clichés that unfold right at the start of SOTY. Too many students are a certain “type” of person that we’ve seen in a zillion films before: the spoilt rich boy “type” who hates his father, the bitch “type” who wants to get her claws into him, the heartless wealthy patriarch “type”, the-fat-boy-who-is-not-hot-enough-to-get-a-date “type”. To this mix is added Bollywood’s newly emerging favourite “type”: the OTT effeminate gay guy “type”.
Teen flicks are not an oft-visited genre in Hindi cinema. Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar in 1992 and Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na in 2008 worked in different ways because they featured characters who felt like real people, and neither film was trying too hard to be cool. YRF’s much-less-talked-about Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge last year was a smooth ride because of some solid writing. Student of the Year does not make the grade on these fronts.
It does work on other fronts though: It’s breezy almost throughout. The sporting contests are well executed. The soundtrack is filled with catchy numbers including remixes of many old hits, the highlight being Disco deewane. The choreography is energetic. In spite of the superficiality all around, there is a tug at the heart when you witness Abhimanyu’s love for his feisty grandmother played by the luminous Farida Jalal. But my favourite elements in the film are the manner in which Rohan’s uneasy relationship with his father turns out and what finally happens to the friendship between the two boys.
The three youngsters may not have the charisma of the SRK-Kajol-Rani trio in KJo’s debut film Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, but there’s no doubt they could be moulded into something special. Malhotra is the natural hunk of the lot with the most striking presence. Dhawan seems strongest in the acting department but would do himself a favour by bulking up his torso a little less in the gym to get a body that’s better suited to the sweet face. And Bhatt needs to pick a role that gives her a chance to be more than just a cute mannequin. Kayoze Irani as their overweight friend makes a mark with a rather nicely written speech he delivers towards the end where subtlety and sensitivity unexpectedly creep into the picture. My pick of the cast though is Ram Kapoor who could bring acting depth even to a puddle.
Depth … now if only Student of the Year had more of that. No aspect of the film seems fully explored. Nothing in the story feels particularly new. And the excess of gloss overwhelms everything else in what could otherwise have been a neat boy-bonding film. Still, it’s entertaining in a doggedly don’t-take-me-seriously sort of way. As long as you’re warned, that’s not such a bad thing.
Rating (out of five): **9/10
CBFC Rating (India):
Photograph courtesy: http://www.facebook.com/SOTYOfficial