Mayank Shekhar | Last Modified - Oct 19, 2012, 03:29 PM IST
Whether this film is the “student”, or “sir-dard” (head-ache) of the year, pretty much depends on what perspective you view it from, or perhaps how old you are. If nothing else, the director has his target audience set – the youth, as it were. Given that most leading men in Bollywood cannot quite be classified as genuinely young (even the youngest of the lot have touched their 30s), the film stars new faces. It has to.
With a narration inspired by Abbas Tyrewala’s Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, the story is told through a bunch of people in their late 20s, looking straight into the camera, telling us of their high school experience from 10 years ago. You’ve seen the film’s posters, there are two boys and a girl, this is a romance, so you know the full gig. The movie is titled Student Of The Year, so quite obviously again, someone has to win that title too. But here, I may as well tell you what the title implies.
It means a competition involving Bollywood dancing, cycling, swimming and running. Being good at these wonderful pursuits should ideally land you a place in Dance India Dance, or the National Games. The winner here gets a fully paid scholarship to enter a top level (Ivy League) American university instead! Even as the song “Ratta Maar” (mug up your notes) plays on screen, what you see are students going nuts exercising in the gym, so they can become, well, the best student of the year.
The school itself, even by Bollywood standards, resembles nothing you’ve ever known. It’s called St Teresa’s, which sounds like an all-girls’ convent. It’s an institution run by one rich man (Ram Kapoor), who publicly humiliates teachers, telling the students, “Look at where they are. They just tell you the rules.” You feel sorry for teachers, they keep their mouths shut. Students applaud.
Varun Dhawan (son of director David Dhawan; reasonably comfortable on screen) plays the school owner’s son. Ali Bhatt (among cookie-cutter Bollywood queens who look the same, clearly she stands out) plays the high school sweetheart. She is filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt’s daughter. In the school they’re in, it really matters whose children you are. Parents push their kids to befriend wealthy people's sons and daughters; mothers suggest push-up bras and cosmetic surgery so their babies can trap the best boys. Surely, this is an expensive institution to be in. I can’t imagine it being particularly prestigious. It’d be fun to be enrolled here still.
The school’s dean (Rishi Kapoor) ensures nobody has to deal with a classroom. He’s a jovial gay man. Probably, so are all his students. Looking at the new tall, dark, handsome North Indian boy in school (Siddharth Malhotra), everyone starts swooning and dancing over how “sona” is the latest “munda”. There’s more male skin in this film than you would've seen for all women put together this year. The camera suggestively makes love to men’s cleavage, pelvis and boxer shorts as young muscled hulks step out of the swimming pool.
The new kid in school becomes best buddies with the rich owner’s son. There’s so much sexual chemistry between the two that at some point the filmmakers have to insert a scene where they make it clear that the two are really not gay. You buy the point. They’re after all interested in the same girl. This is a Bollywood romance. The genre is truly right up fashion designer and filmmaker Karan Johar’s street.
You can tell how good the director is with choreographing moments from a beautiful sequence, right before the interval, when the two boys and the girl are at a wedding, there’s a lilting background score, no dialogue, and the whole story gets revealed merely with eye contact: the girl is in love with the new boy! Sadly the film hardly lives up to that wonderfully subtle moment. I guess, you need to suddenly break into half a dozen songs and music videos to ensure a full-on, old-world Bollywood soundtrack, and as many random scenes to guarantee the hit of the year. The drama has to be mawkish. If you tone anything down, I suppose, you’ll lose the big bucks. The insecurities show.
Recall the introduction sequence for Kareena Kapoor in Johar’s Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (the “Pooh” song!), that’s pretty much what goes on for most of the film. It’s for the trendy urbane youth, remember? How can you not? They just keep reminding of this every single second. You hope the target group and the aspirational consumer category this marketing product has been rolled out for is reasonably satisfied then....
So what if Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander (1992) was the 'Student Of The Year' for my generation; and yes, the present one could do with a whole lot better.