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.
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.
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.
In short, I HEART KJO FOREVAAAA AND SCREW ALL YE HATERS GO WATCH AN ANURAG KASHYAP FILM THANK YOU THAT IS ALL GOOD NIGHT!!!!!
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