Are you fond of reminiscing the lost days of school and college – the studies, the competition, the friendship, the unadulterated fun? Do you love watching Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar again and again? Have you ever felt that Indian cinema hasn’t made of school and college flicks? If yes, then Karan Johar has dished out a flick that might just suit your palate.
When I first saw the trailers of “Student of the Year” (SOTY), I was like – “Karan Johar made this film? Really? Why?” After choosing to deal with a sensitive topic like infidelity in KANK and the even more politically relevant My Name is Khan dealing with the aftermath of 9/11, why would any director go back and reprise a zone he had visited with his debut flick? Not that all my questions have been answered, but one thing that surely have realised is that KJo wanted to improve upon his debut venture which I thought was grossly dishonest. And that too after earning the expertise through other films! Does he succeed? Well, yes.
Now, the next question that arises is that “Do you like escapist cinema?” – one where the poor boy wears designer jackets and Ray Ban sunglasses? Or the Indian school which looks like it’s set somewhere in USA? Or the girl who swears by brand names in order to save herself from her family discord? If it’s NO, then you should give SOTY a miss. If you don’t mind, then I recommend, you go and watch SOTY. For this KJo flick is escapist cinema at its pinnacle.
Unlike my previous review (Barfi!), I will try to keep this one pity and not disclose much spoilers.
But, anyways let’s start with the premise that we all know. Set in some “Oxfordian” St Teresa School (Dehradun), the film chronicles the journey the life of a handful of friends and how their lives change thanks to one competition. Spearheaded by Dean Yogendra Vashisth (Rishi Kapoor) who has a soft spot for the athletics coach Mr Shah (Ronit Roy), the institute is typically for the rich brats who like parking their vehicles at pre-designated spots. The dude of the college is Rohan Nanda (Varun Dhawan), son of rich but mean baron Ashok Nanda (Ram Kapoor), and the dude’s girlfriend is Shanaya Singhania (Alia Bhatt) who, as the film says, is her mother’s only and stepfather’s fifth daughter. While Ashok Nanda leaves no stone unturned to humiliate his son and his wife (Gautami Kapoor) plays a mute spectator to it, Shanaya likes interrupting her parents’ discussion by claiming she is pregnant! Enters the poor boy with Ray Ban shades – Abhimanyu Singh! Orphaned at a young age and reared by a caring daadi (Farida Jalal), a hapless chacha and “I-don’t-miss-a-taunt” chachi (Maninee De Mishra), Abhimanyu is someone who enters the race with his eyes firmly set on the goal. His entry shakes the balance as he suddenly outdoes the dude Rohan. Despite an initial tiff, they make up (no they don’t kiss – though they keep saying it many a time). Between the two, Rohan is more of the current generation youngster – who is quintessentially nice but confused about his larger objective in life. He isn’t sure about his romantic life but he loves his girl. But as a friend, he is rock solid and is endowed with a heart of gold. The same is in stark contrast to Abhimanyu, who dispassionately asserts that he can defeat his best friend to win the competition. However, things are seriously disbalanced when Abhimanyu falls for Shanaya and she starts reciprocating it. Humiliated at home and betrayed by his friend, Rohan decides that “I am done with charity” and wants to win the competition, more badly than ever. Shanaya decides it’s best for her to step back but cannot help herself feel torn between her boyfriend and the newfound twinge in her heart! Who wins and how? Go and check!
Is SOTY without flaws? Of course not! Is it totally unpredictable? No! Absolutely not! In fact, someone who has seen the trailers, endowed with a sharp memory and has a good sense of camera, knows the winner in the beginning reels of the film. That I feel is the biggest drawback of the film. However, the same doesn’t take away much of the film for you never entered the hall expecting unpredictability. A student – coming of the age – fun film cannot keep you uncertain. Yet, despite its flaws, SOTY scores for a multitude of reasons!
Karan Johar is in full form. You can figure out that the man loves his grandeur, loves the large canvas and loves archetypal Hindi cinema – the humour, the naach-gaana, the dhishoom-dhishoom and the sad scenes – for he has packed all of them in copious amounts. Despite a culmination which is long given, Rensil D’Silva and Karan Johar write a screenplay that engages the audience throughout. And Niranjan Iyengar supplements the same with dialogues that never seem odd for the 20-something characters. The humour scenes don’t necessarily crack you up but you can have a few laughs here and there. Though the competition is supposed to be the highlight, KJo proves that his mastery of the art is at its pinnacle when he is dealing with soft romantic portions. And that is beautifully highlighted in a prolonged silent scene (with only music playing in background) in the pre-interval scene. It is definitely the best moment of the movie.
Pretty much like all other Dharma films, SOTY also has a lot endowed in its music. A lot of original compositions with a few remixes thrown in (No, I am not talking about the disco song), the music plays a significant role, and all of them work in the film. Yes, the ‘Kukkad’ song seems forced and is reminiscent of the “Deewana Hai Dekho” from K3G, but the others are pretty much in sync. While ‘Disco Deewane’ comes at a crucial point and has 3 cameos in it (Guess who?) and suits the bill, ‘Ishq Waala Love’ is beautifully shot, ‘Radha’ is a typical sangeet and wedding song, the number that works most for me is ‘Velle’ – because of the energy it puts in. SOTY is Vishal Shekhar’s first collaboration with KJo and I must say they did a commendable job of churning chartbusters. And thanks to the choreographers – Remo D’Souza, Farah Khan & Bosco-Caesar, the songs look equally appealing on screen.
The art design and cinematography are splendid – and all credits to Amrita Mahal and Ayananka Bose for the same. While the auditorium was beautifully converted to a disco and ditto for other scenes, Ayananka Bose lends ample glitz through his lenses. He had worked with Dharma before but this is his collaboration with KJo himself. The man who shot to fame with “I Hate Luv Storys” and “Kites” does a great job here as well. My only question is why were the HMIs and gel papers deliberately shown in the “Ishq Waala Love” song? I was like “Hainn?? Yeh kya hua?” Editor Deepa Bhatia also does a fine job – cutting the sports scenes sharply and even more crucially, never letting the pace drop despite the long length of the film.
Finally, coming to the cast! KJo has always worked with the biggest stars right throughout his career. The only other relatively newcomer he had cast in an important role was Rani Mukherji in K2H2. However, he launches three oven-fresh faces as his protagonists. And that is indeed a huge challenge – especially when you have repeatedly worked with the Baadshah Khan everytime. If SOTY works, KJo can sleep a happy man and pat his own back for succeeding without SRK in the frames. Coming to the newbies! Varun Dhawan (David Dhawan’s son) has my money among the three for traversing the longest distance. He is cool, assured and yet liberated. He plays the emotionally wanting kid with gusto and takes my applause. Siddharth Malhotra – the non-filmy guy of the lot – is handsome no doubt, but his acting is a bit inconsistent to me. While he looks perfectly in form in many scenes, there is something too cautious about his acting in most scenes. The third member of the cast is Mahesh Bhatt’s daughter Alia Bhatt. Now, there are no two ways about the fact that she is cute, but her acting? Okay! And who’s to blame? I think KJo himself – for he gives his heroine a raw deal here, as the film pretty much belongs to the guys.
However, keeping them aside, the supporting cast also does a commendable job. After the menacing Rauf Lala in Dharma’s “Agneepath”, Rishi Kapoor is again at peak form as the gay dean Vashisth who is funny but nuanced. After years in the industry doing conventional roles, Rishi Kapoor is finally realising his talent with some offbeat characters. Ram Kapoor as the man guy is excellent while Ronit Roy as the coach is equally efficient. Farida Jalal is lovable as ever. The group of friends – Kayoze Irani, Sana Saeed (the girl from K2H2), Majot Singh and all others are apt in their roles.
Don’t know what KJo will attempt in his next flick but a film like this is something he can make with his eyes closed. He had an expert technical team to also help him out. And with all that resources, he made a perfectly entertaining film. If you expect something great, you will be disappointed. If you just want to chill, this one’s a good option!
My Rating: 3.5/5