Student of the Year
Direction: Karan Johar
Actors: Sidharth Malhotra, Sana Saeed, Alia Bhatt
Karan Johar's forte is excess. He creates fantastical worlds brimming with beautiful people and expensive things and yet anchors them in high emotion. His films work as both designer porn and soap opera.
The pleasure you derive from his films is directly connected to your tolerance of candy floss. I've always been seduced. But the danger of candy floss is that it can quickly become vacuous and over-designed.
At its centre, Student of the Year has a fun and engaging 'bromance' between two high school boys who come from opposite sides of the tracks.
Rohan Nanda, played by Varun Dhawan, is a rich brat, while Abhimanyu Singh, played by Sidharth Malhotra, is a middle-class scholarship student. Like Rahul and Anjali in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, the story of Rohan and Abhi's friendship and falling out is a school legend. But too often, this relationship is swallowed up by the overwhelming gloss, perfect styling and set-piece songs. The entire narrative hinges on a school competition that is so silly and shallow that it's hard to take any of it seriously.
Student of the Year is set in an impossibly shiny boarding school. The leading lady, Shanaya, played by Alia Bhatt, carries Hermes bags. She's like Poo from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham but without the killer attitude. Shanaya is substituting her lack of family ties with designer labels. The boys are also given simplistic backstories to explain why they are the way there are.
All three might be emotionally damaged but their physical perfection is established with numerous shots of washboard abs. This is youth without awkwardness or vulnerability. There are also faint echoes of Jaane Tu… Ya Janne Na and Dil Chahta Hai.
Yet, Karan creates moments that are genuinely moving and humorous. His trump card is the wonderful Rishi Kapoor as the school's gay dean. Wearing flamboyant pink ties, he lusts after his sports coach. So the principal from a rival school remarks: Coach coach hota hai.
Karan also deserves applause for putting his faith in new actors. He elicits commendable performances from his cast of debutants including Boman Irani's son, Kayoze, who lets loose in a dramatic climactic speech. Alia's brief is to be pouty and attractive, which she manages to do.
Critically, the leading men, Varun and Sidharth, work. They don't instantly set the screen on fire like Hrithik Roshan or Ranbir Kapoor did in their first films. But they grow on you. Karan puts a heavy burden on them. They are the backbone of this film, but they pull it off. If you have patience and a taste for the overblown, check them out.