Karan Johar has done it again. With resounding success. Student Of The Year is that fulsome entertainer which in spite of its length, you wish wouldn't end. The characters, though never making any serious claims to profundity, leave a lasting impact in the smallest of roles. The momentum never slackens .We feel a rush of adrenaline as the elegantly packaged saga of boy-bonding takes us along for a ride that we aren't likely to forget in a hurry.
To begin with, the plot is wafer-thin. We've seen Raj Kapoor and Rajendra Kumar playing the rich and middleclass suitor, respectively, to the haughty Vyjanthimala in Sangam. And so many beautiful troikas have followed the same route. Karan Johar makes the Eternal Triangle look kinda cutely off-beam, measured and delectable in flavour but not lacking entire in an inner-life.
Even the super-rich have their moments of self-mockery. Alia Bhatt playing the endearing airhead announces a fake pregnancy to get her wealth-obsessed parents' attention at the dinner table. She plays the designer-bimbo with a sense of tongue-in-cheek panache. Karan Johar has a rare ability to laugh at the very world of the rich and the beautiful that he inhabits, without seeming savage .The girl Shanaya comes visiting the brooding hero Abhimanyu's ailing grand mom in hospital in a short dress.
"I don't have any hospital clothes. I will go shopping today," she promises the troubled hero.
Well, three cheers for the privileged insulated class whose kids are protected from the murky world of crime and poverty. Karan's cinema celebrates unfettered glamour without trivializing the issues that bang insistently right outside the picture-perfect world. In fact towards the end there is a very pertinent statement on the education system that fosters destructive competitiveness and destroys the individual student's self regard if he or she fails to make the grade.
The tirade-like monologue is delivered with rousing sensitivity by Kayoze Irani who plays the…well, overweight student who challenges the endearing gay dean (Rishi Kapoor) to a bout of self introspection on the question of academic excellence.
The setting is a Utopian college where books are arranged not for their academic value but how well they work for the film's sleek colour scheme. Two students, one rich spoilt and arrogant, the other a bourgeois dreamer with intense aspirations, are pitched against one another. Outwardly the campus battle suggests a shallow war of one-upmanship between the two heroes for the campus hottie's manicured hand.
However with a miraculous manoeuvring away from the vacuous, screenwriter Rensil D'Silva creates an inner world of angst and craving for these seemingly over-privileged protagonists, all products of malfunctional families. Admirably the supporting cast of students is also given a back-grounder, so that the film's student brigade appears more than just a keepsake picture shot in a flattering light.
In terms of cracking his young brigade's inner-life Karan Kohar has moved far ahead of his maiden Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Neither the students nor the teachers in Student Of The Year are caricatural. Not even the gay dean , played with endearing aplomb by Rishi Kapoor whose soft corner for the sports coach(Ronit Roy, restrained) never hits any hard edges. And when Rishi on his deathbed winks at the heterosexual coach and says, "Maybe in the next birth", you feel the same lump in your throat that you did when in the 1970 trendsetting romance Love Story Ali McGraw told Ryan O'Neal love meant never having to say you're sorry.
Throughout this film Karan Johar demonstrates a mellow maturation in handling the relationships. The characters are often foolhardy and stupid. Their treatment is never that.
The film has a wonderful retro-futuristic feel to its romance. While the good looking troika at the plot's centre wear only the elite labels and travel in the poshest cars, their allegiances alliances and ideas on friendship and love are purely old world….except that Rajendra Kumar would never have asked Raj Kapoor, "Ab tu mujhe kiss karega?" after every buddy-embrace, like Sidharth Malhotra does.
Malhotra is every bit the potential superstar. The intense brooding personality and those tell-tale eyes are reminiscent of the early Amitabh Bachchan. Clearly Malhotra is the most promising leading man since Ranbir Kapoor. In a complex role, demystified by lots of hedonistic hijinks, Varun Dhawan executes himself like a seasoned star-actor. Is this really his first film?
As for the object of their adoration, Alia Bhatt is pretty but raw around the edges. She needs time. The supporting cast specially Rishi Kapoor, Ram Kapoor (as Varun Dhawan's son-hating father), Kayoze Irani, Manasi Rach (as Alia's friend who's no chamcha) and Sahil Anand (as Varun's strictly chamcha-friend) sparkles with a ravishing radiance and unshackled joy at being part of a world where only two characters encounter mortality in the kind of hospital that some would die for.
If the world of untainted elitism never gets overpowering it is because the characters are never shown to be overly enamoured by their glamorous destiny. Vishal-Shekhar's use a lot of retro music in a repackaged avatar to create connectivity between the designer world and the world of nostalgia. Cinematographer Aynanaka Bose and editor Deepa Bhatia give the film a texture of believable affluence.
Young, vibrant, colourful, exuberant and exhilarating Student Of The Year is that heady swig of a frothy beverage that leaves you feeling good about life. Karan Johar gets into the heads and hearts of the three restless young and spirited lives swirling seductively in a love triangle that resolves itself over a hand-to-hand combat outside a designer-hospital. And this time Alia Bhatt gets the hospital clothes right.