Karan Johar’s attempt at the ‘high-school musical’ sub-genre leaves a lot to be desired mainly because he treats ‘Student of the Year’ with the same trenchant emotional overdrive – as K3G, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai or any of his more adult entertainers.
The tone is sentimental, the kids are card board tarzans and Janes while the script plays out it’s numbered twists with mechanical efficiency – but the attachment that is generally the by-product of a KJo effort, is difficult to come by. This is meant to be a contemporary high school musical fantasy but the attitudes and culpabilities exposed here harken back to the early sixties. That’s how ancient the mind working behind this song-dance and little else, movie is.
Even so, K Jo manages to break away from the usual traditional tropes that he employs. In SOTY ,there’s nothing preachy. The mood is preppy and playful but the moments in the film border on the campy. The gay overtones appear strong and premeditated. For KJo that has been a progression of sorts. KJo appears to be priming his audience into accepting what was once unacceptable. With ‘Dostana’ he broke new ground on that front and with SOTY he appears to have hit the nail right on the head.
K Jo’s cliché factory works overtime to create an ideal setting for the familiar characters that inhabit this fantasy space. The film has been shot in Dehradun, Kasiga School camouflaged as St Teresa’s – which is quite beautiful. It’s an ideal fantasy set for a triangular romance between two guys and a girl.
Rohan Nanda (Varun Dhawan) is the cool dude of his school, drives around in mercs and Ferraris and is clearly the most sought after, by the girls. He is as flirty as they come, despite a steady in Shanaya (Alia Bhatt), the prettiest babe around. Rohan’s Dad, the biggest business tycoon of them all, and chief trustee and benefactor of the school, Mr Nanda (Ram Kapoor) is disappointed that his younger son is not like him and so treats him with disdain while his eldest gets all the love and appreciation. Rohan’s mother, the quintessential doormat, just looks pained most of the time. All the introductory sequences are couched in elaborate song and dance routines tuned to remixes of old chart-busters.
The new kid on the block is Abhimanyu Singh (Siddharth Malhotra) a relatively poor (Ducati bike et. al.) soul who comes into the school dependant on his scholastic and athletic prowess. He looks good too, so naturally Rohan is not amused by the strong competition. After a few hiccups, the two become best buddies, but Shanaya’s pull on their emotions put the two at loggerheads again, just while the student of the year competition is shown peaking. Dean Yoginder Vashisht (Rishi Kapoor) who has the unabashed hots for the new coach, a happily married (Ronit Roy), makes it his business to liven-up matters with his romantic day-dreams and competition sparking prose.
The film in fact opens with news of the Dean being critically ill while past students from an unforgettably rowdy batch are shown informing each other while they decide to visit him in hospital – to justify the recap on their teenage foibles.
The revisit of old-times and the gathering at the hospital is probably not the done thing in today’s world especially since the kids so called affection for the Dean is never clearly established. The beautiful, picturesque surroundings are not strong enough camouflage for a script that is too trite and un-evolved to make much sense.
Rensil D’Silva’s script pays more attention to posturing than it does to character development. The characters are drawn out in pencil thin renditions and it’s left to the young debutantes to strike up a strong on-screen presence with seemingly effortless performances and complimentary attitude.
It helps that the actors’ performances are styled on Shashi Kapoor (Varun), Amitabh
Bachchan (Siddharth) and Parveen Babi (Alia). KJo knows how to extract the best of what he wants from his actors. The usual rawness displayed by freshers’ is missing here. Despite the poorly written roles, the youngsters display fine physical agility and strong emotive range to make this effort look much better on screen, than what it would have seemed on paper.
Of the three Varun Dhawan displays fluidity in his performance that would put even a senior like Akshay Kumar to shame. Siddharth and Alia also manage to make their presence memorable if not exactly heart-felt. The seniors here – Sushma Seth, Farida Jalal, Boman Irani, Nandini Sen, Ronit Roy – make impressive brief appearances while Rishi Kapoor is superbly restrained as the ‘Gay’ Dean. This film is typically K Jo but it’s not his best.