Movie Review: Student of the Year
Young, good-looking, high schoolers in love and competition – with each other and the eponymous title/award.
Excuse me, but, Shah Rukh who?
Karan Johar’s new half-sparkly, romantic Bolly-fable about high school love and antipathy, may be his first directed film that sidelines Shah Rukh Khan in favor of younger, bare-chested youngsters; and it may (partially) hark back to his debut “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” (with an overarching shadow of “Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar”); and it may feature SRK’s co-production stamp (the film is co-produced by SRK’s wife and Johar’s friend Gauri Khan) – but what it doesn’t do is ramble on pomposity, or worrisome self-consciousness.
Student of the Year – SOTY – is Johar’s clean-break from his gradually maturing mindset (re: the warped family break-up drama “Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna” and the flaky political statement “My Name is Khan”), and boy, is it woozy, fresh, if somewhat unoriginal. But that doesn’t actually bother Johar – and he doesn’t let it pester you either.
Clocking in a typical-Bollywood 146 minutes, SOTY’s screenplay (by Rensil D’silva and dialogues by Niranjan Iyengar) rakes in character development, drive, and half-remixed sound-track, into a pitch-perfect starring vehicle for his debuting trio. Two of whom are Sidharth Malhotra (as Abhimanyu “Abhi” Singh) and David Dhawan’s son, Varun Dhawan (playing Rohan “Ro” Nanda). These chiseled-bodied, soft-hearted leads start off as enemies, become friends, graduate into frenemies over the McGuffin that’s the eponymous, school competition.
The third leading-debut is their mutual love-interest, Shanaya (Alia Bhatt, once-director, now producer Mahesh Bhatt’s daughter) – a dolled-up rich babe, who is the desire of every boy and the jealously of every other babe in school (we don’t get to see that either).
Shanaya, although is the lead who gets to disco, boogie and twirl in almost all the film’s musical numbers, her “Ishq Wala Love”, is simply a picturesque wall-decoration. SOTY is less interested in telling a love story; it instead tries to win-over a persistent, if-uneasy, bromance fable.
Abhi, the underdog, is a career-oriented youngster who gets into the upmarket, semi-swanky St. Teresa’s High School on a sports scholarship. Ro is the son of alumi-turned-tycoon (Ram Kapoor); semi-spoiled, seeking his father’s adoration (he gets put-down often), he is the black-sheep who dreams of having a career as a pop/rock artist. Ro’s longtime girlfriend is Shanaya, born to indifferent, rich parents, who push her to maintain her class-conscious relationship.
There are no initial sparks between Abhi and Shanaya, but they do get it on in a Malaysian wedding trip (actually one of the film’s many excuses to undress the leads, splash them in dripping water for slow-mo beauty shots); And then of course, the Student of the Year competition is initiated by Dean Yoginder Vasisht (Rishi Kapoor, effortless and charismatic, innocently pining after film’s happily-married college coach Ronit Roy) which turns them – and the film’s supporting cast – into enemies.
This group of friends and lackies are – superficially – your usual fodder. The slutty cheerleader is Sana Saeed (who played SRK’s daughter in “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai”). Shanaya’s “bff” is played by Mansi Rachh, a tomboy with a semi-prominent drive that matures with the film’s duration. The bespectacled geek is SODO, played by Kayoze Irani (Boman Irani’s son, who may be epitomizing some of Johar’s personal anguish). And finally there’s Sahil Anand, who plays Ro’s lackey.
What’s consistent about Johar’s filmmaking is that he scales and balances weight on his leads and their supporting actors. So, when Fareeda Jalal enters the movie as Abhi’s grandmother (he lives with his uncle and aunt, after his parents died), we believe that she’s his emotional center .
SOTY’s hardly visible plot, is slickly decorated around big, glossy sets and an immediately hummable music by Vishal-Shekhar, who meld their style with the Karan Johar-touch, incorporating “Yeh Chand Sa Roshan Chehra”, “Gulabi Aankhen” and Nazia Hasan’s “Disco Deewane” with renewed juice (watch out for Rishi Kapoor doing a “Dafli Walay” routine in “Radha”, one of the star-songs of the movie; the other star-song is “Ratta Maar”).
SOTY is auteurism at work. There’s a bold, visible sign at the door that says: “Hassle-free, escapist entertainment. Park your incisive, over-assessing criticisms at the door, and enjoy that bag of expensive pop-corn you just bought!”