Bollywood and culture in an emerging India
Student of the Year: Bromance, brawn and not too much brain
Is it possible for a film-maker to regress with each film? Wouldn’t logic dictate that you learn and therefore progress with each film? But Karan Johar, who otherwise comes across as one of the most savvy, intelligent and knowledgeable people in the industry, doesn’t seem to apply that same logic to his films.
After his last film as director “My Name is Khan“, in which he tried to deal with the sensitive issues of terrorism and racism, Johar is back to what you would think is familiar turf with “Student of the Year“. College romance, pretty people falling in love, dances, wedding sequences interspersed with bikini scenes, and bare, perfectly sculpted bodies that are given lots of screen time.
But while “Student of the Year” is good in terms of styling and gloss, it lacks a coherent storyline. Revolving around two friends, a girl and a bizarre school tournament for “student of the year” which involves the world’s worst treasure hunt, a dancing competition and a triathlon in which women and men compete at the same time, this film is one of those which cannot even pull off the fluff with panache.
Contrast that with Johar’s “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai“, his first film which was also a college romance, with all the style and glamour but also the innocence that endeared you to the film in spite of its flaws.
Newcomers Siddharth Malhotra and Varun Dhawan play Abhimanyu and Rohan, two friends who go to the exclusive St Teresa’s School. Whether it is a school, a college or just a place where scantily dressed boys and girls who look too old to be in school hang out, play football, drive fast cars, live in designer dorms and do everything but study, we will never know.
Rohan is seeing Shanaya (Alia Bhatt) but never seems to give her enough attention, flirting with other girls (one of whom is actually encouraged by her mother to flirt with Rohan, because he is the son of a rich businessman). Abhimanyu on the other hand is from a middle-class family and idolises Rohan’s businessman father, hoping to be as successful as him one day. But the friendship turns sour when Abhimanyu develops feelings for Shanaya and the two friends turn rivals, each hoping to be ‘Student of the Year’.
Of course, you are required to suspend logic during the movie, but Johar doesn’t make this make-believe world real enough for you to invest in these characters. He borrows from J K Rowling’s Hogwarts, his own “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” and Enid Blyton’s stories, but brings in none of the magic that these stories had. As a result, “Student of the Year” feels as hollow as it looks. This is one of those movies where rippling muscles shot in slow motion get more screen time than the actual love story, or friendship.
Speaking of the love story, this is Bollywood’s true bromance, and the girl, over whom the two boys are supposed to be fighting over, is just incidental. Alia Bhatt doesn’t get as much time as the two boys do, which is just as well, given that she doesn’t do much more than pout and smile.
Both Malhotra and Dhawan are good in their roles, which mostly involve wearing half-open kurtas or body-hugging denims and sweaters. The star in this movie is Rishi Kapoor, who plays the dean of St Teresa’s. Even in the song sequences, his energy eclipses that of the newcomers.
Not every film needs to have meaning, or a larger message, but it does need a story. “Student of the Year” is all about the clothes, the brawn and the glamour, but not much else.