Student of the Year

Directed by: Karan Johar

I have spent the last six months ruthlessly mocking every promo and song release for this film. “What a hot mess”, I thought to myself. My objections were purely superficial: “that girl looks dull”, “why did they wax ALL the chest hair off?”, “‘The Disco Song’? Are you f’ing kidding me?”…etc.

Student of the Year is not a groundbreaking film and there are a handful of problems (a total lack of story being chief among them) but I have to give credit where credit is due and commend Karan Johar for doing what he does best: entertaining an audience.

St. Theresa’s High School is completely developed, if entirely fantastical, world. These High Fashion-garbed teens very literally “have it all” The girls prance around in high-end lingerie while the guys bum around in Ferraris. They maintain excellent academics while they abuse alcohol. Are we truly supposed to believe that these kids are in high school and not high rolling day traders on the NYSE? Yes, we are.

It’s a Disney sitcom blown up and given the wardrobe budget of a Fall Fashion Week show.

While Karan Johar is skilled at creating worlds that are close to reality he excels at making those worlds “off” enough that he can explore larger and more broad social themes. Much to my disappointment he does no such delving in Student of the Year–a problem, perhaps, enhanced by the total lack of story.

Pitching students against each other in a mildly ridiculous completion to determine the top student of the high school is interesting but it fell flat when none of the characters were worth fighting for and when they cared less for the prize (full scholarship to an Ivy League school) and more about the glory of winning. It’s true that they all wanted to win for personal reasonsBUT what determined their success was nothing academic (the only intellectual qualifications being a preliminary IQ test and a treasure hunt). There were more than enough “little” stories making up plot points but besides a basic cohesion of typical-high-school-angst there was no one story line to carry the plot of the film.

Perhaps my largest problem with this film, and the reason I found the competition so irksome, was the treatment of Alia Bhatt’s character, Shanaya. What could have been an excellent platform to develop a strong, intelligent woman character was squandered. Shanaya is valued only for her sexuality–and what is possibly worse— sees it as her only asset; demonstrated by her comments to gain her parents’ attention, her daily struts in the cafeteria and how she plans to win back a flippant boyfriend. Alternatively, the token smart girl is portrayed as a sexless she-man. It’s a trope that has been entirely exhausted and is, frankly, regressive*.

The inclusion of Shanaya’s character is superficial at best—so it is understandable, if not forgivable–that she isn’t developed past being a stand-in fsor a pretty face. She is around merely to serve as a catalyst to disrupt the lead boys’ bromance. This plot device in itself, the love triangle, is so ineffectively used it should have been scrapped entirely.

I know love triangles are a KJo mechanism but it felt stale. The whole movie would have been better served if it concentrated on just the boys’ relationship. It would have given strength to the limp story and played to the strengths of Sidharth Malhotra and Varun Dhawan: namely their incredibly believable chemistry as “bros”.

My other gripe with this film is the depiction of the gay Dean (played by Rishi Kapoor). Does homosexuality only exist in caricature in Indian Cinema? It’s certainly disheartening coming from Johar (no comment). Surely the two most disenfranchised character types in Indian cinema (females and gays) deserve to be treated as equally, blatantly and as deservedly as the heterosexual males. And while it is a Dharma production and, therefore, prone to melodrama I thought it was a bit extravagant that a bunch of students would come to the bedside of their dying, high school Dean. Sure, the point was to establish a sense of repentance from the dean for ruining their life… but it was high school…If you haven’t gotten over a competition in 10 years then you need more than just a death bed apology. You need some serious art therapy.

It is not easy task to launch a movie with all newbies.  I have to congratulate the cast for their incredible performances. Both Varun and Sidarth played their roles with great capacity and depth. Alia Bhatt surprised me but was not as impressive. To be perfectly honest I think she would fare well in films depicting her as a girl-next-door rather than an ada-bombshell. Boman Imrani’s son, Kayoze Imrani, is an incredible talent and I hope to see more of him.

Besides a few sour spots Student of the Year manages to entertain and enchant the audience. The story is fluffy enough and the music has enough upbeat joy to keep you toe-tapping as you watch. While I think it would have been more aptly titled “Bromance of the Year” I cannot withhold my recommendation. Go catch the film and enjoy some good, old-fashioned, song and dance Bollywood.

*This is by no means a theme I’m holding just Indian Films accountable for. It is rampant in all areas of entertainment.


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