Karan Johar introduces Aryan Khan, Nysa Devgn and Hrehaan Roshan! This is the slate with which Student Of The Year (SOTY) begins. Well, almost. I will dig out this review 10 years down the line to prove that this isn’t totally a wisecrack. Mark my words.
Nevertheless, for now, it’ll have to be Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt and Sidharth Malhotra. Their sparklingly genetic names, along with their ‘maker’ of course, appear before the title of the project – a showreel created to demonstrate the star-family-iterated fact that their sons, daughters and relatives don’t have it all that easy either. It isn’t easy to attain such perfectly sculpted bodies, Greek God expressions (or close) and such unique sing-and-dance showman genes. Acting comes later. The film they’re in – a shiny product of hundreds of hard working technicians and teams working around the clock to create an escapist world that isn’t meant to be taken seriously – can’t be that important. It isn’t really a film any more than it is a moving picture of snazzy smiles, loud scores and Bollywood musical tributes. It isn’t so much about the art, than it is about the commerce and old-school ‘introduction’ favours. This is a no more than a tiny stepping stone for them, for greater things down the line. Look at Ranbir Kapoor, they may reason. A flop debut vehicle with SLB, but look at where he is now. Right?
But SOTY, a desperate in-your-face cocktail of student films lived by generations gone by (Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Mohabbatein and, wait for it, Rok Sako Toh Rok Lo, or even FALTU), is not Karan Johar’s most ambitious effort. It is a design, a disappointment of colossal proportions, by a filmmaker that had once redefined the meaning of ‘Kool’ with his debut effort. That he has matured over the years, tackling subjects that went from close-knit traditional Indian families to cheating spouses to coming-of-age journeys, only adds to the hollow feeling at the end of this project. Surely, he can’t have gone the Subhash Ghai way – refusing to come to terms with a changing world, with changing people and cultures around him. After most of his assistants have disappointed with their debut films, SOTY ironically ends up being the filmschool responsible for where they have gone wrong. It is entirely possible now, that it could have been Johar himself calling the shots on the sets of Agneepath and I Hate Luv Stories.
He may have tried to achieve what Aditya Chopra partially achieved with Mohabbatein, but as predicted and feared by most of his ardent followers, he misses one key ingredient. The superstar. Chopra balanced the raw mediocrity of most of his newcomers with the intense genius of Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan. But Johar, more in an attempt to make a statement to himself, has gone all out with his new cast – a brat brigade that you will probably see a lot more of in years to come. Abbas Tyrewala was one of the rare exceptions who succeeded with a new and very similar character cast – a group of friends similar to the ones here in Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Naa.
The debutants here haven’t really done badly. But they have been packaged so aggressively that it is impossible to gauge their real potential. Varun Dhawan excels in a few angry showdowns with Malhotra – who himself excels at… running fast, and a particular well-shot wedding sequence where he is required to emote with his eyes. Eerily similar to Shah Rukh’s language, that. Alia Bhatt looks barely legal, which Johar may reason, goes with her poor little rich girl persona. But the ‘awww’ she generates is more in tone with the ‘awww’ you hear when you watch a 2 year old girl pull a dog’s tail. The supporting cast is as good as their lines, which aren’t very subtle – thanks to Niranjan Iyengar’s SRK hangover. Kayoze Irani pulls out all the stops in his final speech to a bamboozled Rishi Kapoor (bordering on the Dostana stereotype, but ends up looking like Korean sensation PSY instead). Rensil D’Silva’s simplistic screenplay requires nothing but big names, and it almost aches to watch the final race towards the climax where 90% of the screentime is dominated by slow motion, beats and bulging sweaty biceps. Johar’s generous tribute to Balaji, we’re guessing.
The director does still have a few moments, which mostly involve realization of love, friendship and other emotions with not more than 2 main characters on screen. This is something that he has built an empire around over the years, so it is only natural that he handles them with a deft touch. But the sports and action sequences leave a lot to be desired, with models scampering around as athletes in the background.
After all, to make a ‘High School Musical’ in Bollywood is an enormous exercise in paradoxical pointlessness. Amazing alliteration, no?
Hindi, Drama, Romance, Color