Student Of The Year: Kukkad Kamal Da

Courtesy NDTV

O. M. G. you guys, I LOVE THIS MOVIE.

Love love love love looooooooooove it!!

I have reasons. Many of them.

First of all, it completely restores my faith that our New Jaded Generation will not escape the jaws of melodrama if Karan Johar has anything to do with it. After sitting through “realistic” but boringly un-filmy fare churned out in the name of “youth films” (you know who I’m talkin’  about)  I thought that melodrama was officially dead for the future save for the occasional spoofy scene in a masala film.

But with Student Of The Year Karan manages the impressive feat of staying true to this generation’s lingo and attitudes without compromising the larger-than-life, escapist (read, “totally unrealistic”) quality that makes Bollywood, Bollywood with a capital B.

So yes, there are two dudes who look like no dudes EVER looked in high school.

But Karan knows this. So instead of awkwardly pretending like “huh? what, of COURSE 16-17 year olds look like that in school”, he points the finger right back at himself with the totally hilarious, double-meaning riot that is Munda Kukkad Kamal Da. In other words, he gets to have his big dramatic hero entry and yet self-referentially poke fun at it at the same time without rejecting it outright (as in a film like Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na for instance).

Kukkad comes pretty early in the film and it sets the tone immediately for the remainder of the viewing experience. That song is the signal that says settle back, chill, don’t take us too seriously and just have a good time because that’s what the film is all about. Yes, there are ridiculous amounts of flashy gloss that KJo fans demand and expect from his films (and haters dread like the plague). But it knows what it is and this self-awareness I thought, took this film several notches above even Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (which was, let’s say, more naive in its efforts to be “cool”).

A Fine Balance

The fact that the film doesn’t take itself too seriously (very 2012 appropriate) and yet still manages to pack a punch with the highly melodramatic emotional points (Nineties FTW!!) and the amazingly fun songs that we also have come to expect from a KJo film made me so so so so happy I don’t even know what to tell y’all.

Karan Johar managed this balance so brilliantly, giving me everything that a lifelong KKHH lover would love and yet not making my slightly jaded and cynical soul cringe in my seat, it just makes me love him even more all over again. This is a Karan Johar I can totally get behind.

Of course, the story isn’t ground-breaking by any means (but that was never the point). It’s a fairly typical high school tale about two best friends and a girl who gets between them (not in a good way people MINDS OUT OF THE GUTTER) and a fairly silly “Student Of The Year Goblet Of Fire competition” that sets all friendships on edge as they vie for a Really Large Award. Throw into the mix some really annoying parents who like, “totally don’t get us, dude” and you’ve got everything you could ever want from a teen drama.

Only, this is teen drama via KJo so everything is amplified.

But even within the realm of the typical, KJo turns a few things on their heads. The rich spoilt brat (Varun Dhawan’s Rohan) is more like an ordinary bloke while the ordinary Punjab da puttar (Siddharth Malhotra’s Abhimanyu) looks, acts and talks like a rich spoilt brat. There’s the doll-like girl-who-has-everything (Alia Bhatt’s Shanaya) who manages not to annoy us (we’ve come a LONG way since K3G’s Poo) and even there, the neglected rich girl doesn’t go all woe-is-me but deals with things the way everyone does on twitter – with high doses of sarcasm.

While the sarcasm is new from a KJo-directed film (though not for the ones he’s produced recently), the emotional stuff is there too. No one but no one does a Hospital Room Scene like Karan does (seriously, can anyone forget Rani’s death scene in KKHH?) and there isn’t one but two scenes like that in SOTY. And they totally warmed the cockles of my heart (I’m assuming you guys know what “cockles” are, coz I don’t) and hugged me like a warm, cozy, familiar blanket. Aaaah, that’s emotional manipulation Bolly-style and you guys know  I lap that shiz up like none other.

The melodrama however is confined to the family conflicts and the friendship between Rohan and Sid. With the romance, Karan was more careful and restrained, never veering (sadly) into the kind of delicious, over the top passion we saw in KKHH. The emphasis was more on the relationship between the boys than on Alia.

Fair enough I guess. I think even Karan hasn’t figured out how to make melodramatic love fly in these cynical times so he keeps the potentially explosive scenes between Sid and Alia light and tightly edited. The only mis-step I saw was Alia’s rather ridonkulous outburst when the boys are fighting over her but….whatever. It was actually kind of funny.

The flashback-narrative style reminded me of JTYJN and the meeting-at-the-hospital stuff reminded me of Dil Chahta Hai and who knows, this may have been intentional on Karan’s part. Interestingly, those are examples of films that took some of the filmyness out of Bollywood storytelling but succeeded in ushering  in a new filmy grammar, more popular and palatable for today’s times.

It just reiterates to me that KJo is very aware of what works today and what doesn’t, but this time, instead of compromising his own highly grandiose and emotional sensibilities, he balanced it out without tamping down his own vision. For me, this is SOTY’s greatest accomplishment.

So How About Them Kids?

Does Karan Johar know how to launch some mothertruckin’ stars?

Yes, Karan Johar knows how to launch some mothertruckin’ stars.

Here’s why:

If I had cast all three 19 year olds, you have to understand that there is a ‘Movie Star Connect’ with an older face. When there’s a kiddish man, you don’t find a pan audience going to watch the movie, they’d say bachchon ki film hai, Nickleodeon should have it. With girls you still get away with it, but not with the boys. It was a commercial decision.

That was Karan explaining the “dude, those guys look OLD for high school” question in a super-duper interview with Mihir Fadnavis that I highly recommend you read. That right there is the problem I have with Y-films and their ilk. Yes, it’s more realistic and it makes more sense for the film. BUT IT’S NOT FILMY THE WAY I WANT MY FILMY. And Karan Johar understands the filmy that I want, which is big scale, totally unrealistic escapist shit that will screw with my real life expectations forever but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Which is why Sid, Varun and Alia will go on to become stars. Varun I can vouch is here to stay for a long, long time – the kid just has the “it” factor and for a first film, he was totally and completely relaxed in his portrayal of Rohan and extremely endearing.

I was expecting to be impressed by Varun but Sid was a complete surprise. I thought he would be the new wooden John Abraham and though he isn’t as in-the-skin as Varun is, he’s still got an awesome screen presence. If I were like 15 years younger he would totally be my new crush because though he is ridiculously good-looking, he isn’t intimidating, managing to convey a warmth and likability in spite of his looks.

Similarily, I wasn’t expecting to like Alia Bhatt as much as I did. There’s still a little bit of the awkwardness about her (she frankly seemed a little uncomfortable in all those tiny outfits) but again, there’s that likability factor that is so hard to pinpoint – you either have it or you don’t and I’m happy to say that she does.

In fact, I am ECSTATIC that all three (but especially Sid and Varun given that the male-hero crisis is a bigger crisis right now) infuse some much needed new blood into Bollywood. This was a star launch that reminded me of the way stars were launched in the 90s – they came to be heroes and heroines and they were schooled and groomed to be heartthrobs. This strategy can go horribly wrong of course when it’s wrong (need I remind anyone of Jackky Bhagnani or Harman Baweja?), but when it’s right – oh, it makes me so happy.

As for the other players, Ronit Roy (as Coach) and Ram Kapoor (as Rohan’s douchey dad) were alright – just seeing them in the same film is thrilling enough. Farida Jalal as Abhi’s grandmother is also appropriately adorable.

But dude, Rishi Kapoor is the freakin’ MAN right now with his recent track record of sharp, uninhibited performances. It was hard to fathom that this gay principle was portrayed by the same guy who played Agneepath’s mega-evil Rauf Lala not too long ago. Was it a gay caricature? Yes, it was stereotypical. In the context of the film however, I think the flamboyance worked and I found the character to be very endearing.

So Basically…

Overall, this is the most fun – pure filmy fun – that I’ve had watching a movie in a long, long, long time. There have been “better” movies of course, but this was absolutely everything about the Bollywood that I grew up loving, but carefully updated for 2012 with brand new starry stars. Again, I cannot tell you how much I love KJo for managing this balance so fantastically well.

Especially in light of Yash Chopra’s passing, I find there are so few filmmakers who still believe in that kind of larger-than-life cinematic fantasy. Even more than Aditya Chopra, I think it’s Karan who really imbibed Yashji’s sense of cinematic style and his firm grip on emotionality and storytelling that is so typically Bollywood. SOTY is the only film I can think of in recent times that has successfully fused that old-fashioned style in with the current milieu. It’s not a throwback and it’s not retro. And yet, it made me nostalgic.

And hungry for more.

This is what I’ve been waiting for from Bollywood for ages now, and SOTY finally, finally delivers in the form of a big, satisfying, Kjo-y kiss.


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18 comments on “Student Of The Year: Kukkad Kamal Da

  1. I haven’t read all your post, in case of spoilers, but I love the enthusiasm and passion with which you defend the film. Your opening paragraphs are enough to persuade me to consider watching it, ESPECIALLY since I’m not likely to watch a Kahyap film any time soon! :)

    I am curious about the “realistic” youth films you mentioned – sadly, I don’t know who you’re talking about, but would love to.

    • Stuart,

      OMG, I loved it so much. Don’t think I gave any spoilers but you can always read after you watch it. I was referring to Y-films (Mujhse Fraandship Karoge) et al, even Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na maybe not totally “realistic” but more so than the teen films of the 90s. :)

      • Really? I wondered if you meant MFK, but thought there must have been some earnest film I’d missed. I loved MFK, and JTYJN, and didn’t think either deserved to be called realistic, certainly not as a pejorative. JTYJN especially was hardly “boringly un-filmy” for me, what with talking paintings and cowboys in the streets of Mumbai. Very different definitions of boring, I guess. :D

        • Yeah, that’s why “realistic” was probably the wrong word, but I meant they weren’t the typical filmy grammar of the 90s that I missed…like DCH and JTYJN were very urban and slick and wry and witty – nothing wrong with it of course, and fine for what it is. But us old-timey folks totally miss the KJo-YC stuff, which speaks in a totally different language…so that’s what I meant.

        • Understood. You now have the satisfaction of a job well done, having persuaded me to watch the film in spite of its director. I’d read enough to get the impression that the overall reaction was favourable, but you sold me on it. Tell him he owes you!

  2. Girl, please tell me you saw the Dean as KJo stand-in connection… because… yeah.

    I also REALLY liked SOTY but I think I saw more meaning in the film than you did. Then again I generally go into things with my sociological goggles on, which not everybody does.

    Agree on the three leads, they were wonderful. And I think Sid has a JA presence but in a good way – like JA at the top of his game in something like SEI or No Smoking rather than as second banana to Akshay Kumar in Garam Masala, you know? ;P But, yeah, Varun = the bomb in the college.

    • FG,

      Yeah! I read your review and LOL’d at the Dean-KJo connection, I do see that as well!! I also almost felt like Kayoze’s character is how KJo saw himself in school, so thought that was sweet too.

      Yeah I usually don’t look for sociological connections in a film but it definitely did drive home the “be true to yourself” message that you mentioned. I think I usually have my screenwriter goggles plus Bolly-nostalgia goggles on when I’m watching a film so that ends up being my angle most of the time. ;)

      LOVE the kids! Sid impressed me waaaay more than expected. Yeah, current JA rather than JA when he first started is a better fit. Loved Varun coz he had this every day, relatable quality about him, but still cute.

      • Ah, see I don’t have the nostalgia filter or the screenwriting filter – which is why I really liked the point you made about DCH!! It’s a very apt comparison and one that didn’t occur to me. I got the obvious references but the allusion to another youthful film was very appropriate.

        My childhood reference point has always been fairytales and myths, so I tend to like things with a real mythical resonance – one of the reasons I enjoy old-fashioned herogiri so much. ;)

        I will say that SOTY is the first Bollywood film where I’ve actually seen the potential for an American/Western-style “fandom” built up around it. With fanfic and shipping and all of that. I don’t know what that means, if anything.

  3. YAY! I am so glad you loved it. I don’t think I’ve had as much fun at the movies in recent times. What I loved about it was how smart it was while being outrageously silly and frothy at the same time. KJo is, for all his excesses, a canny filmmaker. And boy, does he know how to make a great-looking film. I feel a little icky about liking Alia as much as I do, being four years older than her and all, but she was just darling. And Varun’s presence just leaps off the screen. Sid was strong, too – he’s going to play a sexy cop very well someday soon. And the songs! I just wanted to get up and dance! I mean, Gulaabi Ankhen? With the ridiculously campy recitation of designer labels? Favorite thing ever. Nothing makes me happier than a great heroine introduction. Ooh, and Dafliwaale! Rish Kapoor still has it. Even Ishq-Waala Love, which I was a little worried about, worked beautifully with the little scenes woven in. Karan apparently decided to do away with the burning tree.
    I saw the Pseudo-Karan connection, too, but it also made me happy that the film’s gay teen got to be the main narrator, and looked successful and happy in the “present-day.”
    People are carping about how “candyfloss’ the film is, but it takes a lot of smarts to make a candyfloss film so well. This one’s up there with “Clueless” on my “I can watch this all day, err’day” list now. In fact, I’m probably going to watch it again RIGHT NOW.

    • Sal,

      Oh YEAH, Gulabi Aanken was so BOSS, so campy, so good, so thoroughly enjoyable. And I was wondering about that burning tree and where it went – he did do away with it didn’t he? Ah well, but as you said the song still worked within the whole context of the film. There wasn’t a dull moment anywhere. I am SOOO getting the DVD blu-ray edition, whatever fanciest edition they come out with. This one’s for keeps, an instant classic!

  4. thank you, getfilmy, i will now go see this film. btw i’m a cockney and i say it all the time,but other than those disgusting little shelled things you get at the seaside in the uk, sprinkling them with salt and vinegar, i have no idea what a cockle( in your ‘eart) is either and how however possible, they get into your ‘eart. kjo all the way

    • Londongirl,

      Well cockles is such a funny word ain’t it? So did you know, “kukkad” actually means cock, so the song “munda kukkad kamal da” translates to “the lad is an amazing cock”. HAAWWW!! :D KJo forevaa!

  5. Really enjoyed reading your enthusiasm for this movie! I haven’t seen it yet, but will watch it…

    As a talk show host, awards show host, etc., i find KJ to be really entertaining…As a director, though, he really confuses me…I feel like KKHH is still his best…it’s interesting how everyone’s saying that the male leads are more the focus in SOTY, cuz one thing I’ve noticed about his earlier films is that he doesn’t write male characters very well…in KKHH, SRK’s role barely had any depth, but he packaged the film so well that people didn’t notice or care…I hated K3G – all the gloss still couldn’t cover up such a dumb story, and I blame Karan completely for making all three superstars (AB, SRK, HR) appear boring and lifeless, except maybe in the songs…KANK irritated me on many levels, but then with MNIK, I really felt he got most of it right…anyhow, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m all for the gloss and glitter, as long as the characters are enjoyable:)

    • Dilse,

      Oh, that’s such a good point re KJo usually being stronger at writing the female characters than the male ones. In SOTY’s case, it’s the total opposite, and he did a great job writing the male characters and portraying their relationship!!

      And yes, I agree that as a host and generally in his interviews, KJo sounds and IS way more intelligent than a lot of his films have been. I think SOTY is a turning point though. I mean, don’t expect anything super-innovative but for what it is, the gloss and glitter and emotions totally worked for me. The trio looked amazing!

  6. Finally i hav the time to read ur posts and comment. Was really busy of late.

    Coming to SOTY. I want to watch it, and those who liked it are all filmy people like us. I even wanted to watch Aiyyaa too. Initially i thought Aiyyaa was too OTT (and i did mention that on your blog) but the dialogue promos were amazing (esp that Madhuri-Sridevi-Juhi wala). And SOTY too is for totally fun, filmy people like us. Hope i get the time to watch it.

    BTW no one mentioned abt Sana Saeed (Anjali of KKHH). How was she in SOTY?

  7. Rahul,

    Omg, my “review” went on for so long I realized after I published it that I forgot to mention both Kayoze and Sana. Both of them were fantastic, Kayoze impressed me more than Sana, but I mean honestly, I totally forgot that this was Sana Saeed from KKHH – to me she was like a brand new actress. Her role didn’t give her too much scope to shine, but for what it was, she did it justice.

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