Student of the Year (SOTY) is a movie that revolves around ‘bromance’, for the lack of better word. It’s not your average, boy meets girl, high-school love story. The film delves into the nuances of the camaraderie between two friends who belong to two different worlds. One, a trust fund teen; brought up in the throes of privilege and comfort. And the other, a small town boy with big aspirations, whose aim is nothing but to make it big in life. Moving past the initial animosity, the duo bonds over the void in lives created by the absence of their parents, both literally and metaphorically.
Orphaned and fostered by his paternal grandmother, uncle and not-so-kind aunt, Abhimanyu Singh (Sidharth Malhotra) joins St Teresa’s High School as a transfer student on a sports scholarship. Director David Dhawan’s son Varun essays the role of Rohan Nanda, the most popular boy in school who may have it all but whose complex, almost indifferent, relationship with his father weighs down on him. The glamour quotient of the SOTY trio, Shanaya Singhania (Alia Bhatt), plays Rohan’s love interest, the girl every boy loves and every girl aspires to be — beautiful, rich and popular.
Having bonded over a wedding, a funeral and the annual Student of the Year competition — devised to pick St Teresa’s best for a scholarship to an Ivy League college — all goes astray when Rohan learns of Shanaya and Abhimanyu’s friendship having blossomed into “Ishq Wala Love”. A kiss later, friendship goes out the window and daggers are drawn but contrary to cliché, SOTY isn’t an excuse for the protagonists to settle scores, but to prove themselves.
The plot is one that plays out in flash-back, with the narrative unraveling itself in a hospital waiting-room, where a group of once friends, now not even acquaintances, have gathered together to visit their ailing high-school principal. The ever versatile Rishi Kapoor in the role of Dean Yoginder Vashisht, the gay, pink Ray Ban donning dean (who even has his own dance sequence) brings the screen alive with his perfect comic timing and wealth of experience and of course, “Dafli Wale” revisited — not to be missed!
Karan has effectively used classic melodies to give a familiar reference to present day context. Seamlessly clubbed together with the film’s young, high energy musical score, the likes of Mohammed Rafi’s “Yeh Chand Sa Roshan Chehra” and “Gulabi Aankhen” and Nazia Hasan’s “Dicso Deewane” serve well to bring about an instant audience connect.
Karan Johar’s frame, however, remains larger than life. Student of the Year smoothly transitions from student life, Dharma Productions style, circa 1998, to represent what many define as the aspirations of modern day India. With Student of the Year, Karan has certainly come a long way since his directorial debut Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. In contrast to his previous films, Karan chooses to encapsulate the imperfection with perfection, juxtaposing the flawed worlds of his characters against a seemingly idyllic setting.
Student of the Year is an entertainer and thankfully doesn’t pretend to be otherwise. The film’s protagonists are all debutants. What is refreshing is that they too, don’t attempt to be anything but that. The tried and tested high school formula comes revamped and packaged sans predictability and with a side of modern day ideology and innuendos. Boasting a large ensemble cast, bringing together the industry’s stalwarts and diverse cross section of newcomers, from glamour to guffaws, drama to dance — SOTY has it all.
Verdict: SOTY is Bollywood’s adaptation of “Gossip Girl” on 35mm — entertainment, entertainment, entertainment!
Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd, 2012.