Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Student of the Year: Karan Johar’s ‘questioning’ return to a comparatively ‘innocent’ past

In Student of the Year, Johar nostalgically returns to the cool campus where he had launched his career some fifteen years back, and revisits the tropes, some of which he had himself made current in Hindi Cinema, but, with an objective distance of a wiser filmmaker. The campus camaraderie which he had romanticized on in his debut film is under suspect at the very outset, when competition becomes the buzz-word defining relationships and social positions. The brands (notably, DKNY, Nike, etc) he had unquestioningly paraded, all most with a sense of pride, have now become more expensive (Gucci, Louis Vitton, Versace, Fusion, etc), but, the treatment they receive, albeit a celebratory one, is also sarcastic. Non-normative sexuality is no longer something to laugh at, although a certain degree of stereotyping is still there. 

More interestingly, marginalities and deprivations are mapped out in terms not only of class positions, but also, the body and sexuality. When the overweight Sodo (Kayoza Irani), in a drunken state, comes down really hard on the gay dean Yoginder Vasisht (Rishi Kapoor), saying Apko pata hai na aap aur mere jaise logo ko kabhi partners nahi mil saakte, you would know how the film has so far created a register of normativity only to debunk it in the end. Beautiful bodies are posited vis-à-vis obese, unfit bodies; heterosexual conjugal life is posited vis-à-vis the sexual ‘Other’. And, yes, man versus woman: she is patronized for her shallowness and naivety; but, she is made fun of and is discriminated against when she becomes a threatening competitor and enters the ‘male’ domain with confidence. 

And amid all that, the veneer of homosociality is constantly pulled into shreds, as the two boys (Siddharth Malhotra as Abhimanyu Singh and Varun Dhawan as Rohan Nanda) romance each other, more intensely than they feel for the girl. Johar recuperates Bollywood’s famous trope of male-bonding, where the heterosexual love interest mostly finds herself an unwanted intruder in their emotional world of bromance. Abhimanyu’s mock concern, every time Rohan, emotionally, hugs him --- Ab tu mujhe kiss to nahi karega? ---- has no malice in it. And, Shanaya (Alia Bhatt) discovers before long that the boys are all too ready to sacrifice her for each other’s sake. She asks the same questions as a certain Vyajayanti Mala had asked in Sangam (where Raj Kapoor and Rajendra Kumar were more in love with each other than with her) or a certain Madhuri Dixit in Saajan (where Sanjay Dutt and Salman Khan fiercely competed against each other in the sacrifice game); and, she must have felt as left out as a certain Sumita Sanyal who sheds tears from a distance, as a grieving Amitabh Bachchan melodramatically breaks down over a lifeless Rajesh Khanna in Anand. And, in the last frame, she is completely shoved into oblivion, as the two friends, looking suggestively at each other, run towards the camera, in a gesture of go-ahead, when the scene fades-out to bring on the end credits. 

And in tune with the theme, Johar deploys the male-body-as-spectacle: a perfectly chiseled Siddharth Malhotra emerges from the sea in a skimpy swimwear with the dripping waters lustily accentuating his anatomy, soon to be followed by an equally uninhibited Varun Dhawan. The sweaty boy-camaraderie of the football field, of the gymnasium, of the swimming pool and running tracks raise the barometer-reading in almost every frame of the film. Alia Bhatt intervenes sometimes in designer-wear and once in a flimsy yellow two-piece to do service to the male (or queer female) gaze. But the boys win hands down in the bare-dare game! Perhaps, this is where The Student of the Year bears the mark of being a Karan Johar film, apart from the visuals of plenitude and aesthetic material objects which have become integral to all his productions.  

However, the desire for a life of abundance the films of Karan Johar has so far marketed, is seriously undercut by Rohan’s abandonment of his father Ashok Nanda’s (Ram Kapoor) property, and his coming of age as a successful musician. Abhimanyu’s ambition to mimic Ashok Nanda which almost makes of him a fierce competitor is also seriously thwarted by his discovery of the entrepreneur’s essential brutality. Although Abhimanyu does attain success, the film inserts a moral lesson too! The aggressive pursuit of ‘good life’, which many of Johar’s films have so far celebrated as inevitable, is called into question. The Student of the Year trophy which degenerates into a symbol of cut-throat competition and death of humaneness remains untouched in the end. The dying dean confesses his mistake of trying to make robots of his students.

Of the actors, Rishi Kapoor, as the dean of the school, is a revelation; the dufliwala still rocks. The newcomers impress more by their looks than their acting skills. Yet, Siddharth Malhotra with his hot angular face, Greek god torso, and deep baritone is here to stay; Varun Dhawan is cute, but demands some more grooming in acting classes; he needs to work hard on his voice. Alia Bhatt is petite and pretty, with an extraordinary panache for carrying sexy dresses and scarlet lips, but, unfortunately, not an actor to be reckoned with. There is certain dumbness about her which suited Shanaya, but, would definitely prove a handicap in other films, unless, however, she is typecast.

One definite plus point of the film are the witty (read bitchy) dialogues which Karan Johar can only pen; and, of course, the music: Vishal-Shekhar would make you rock with Radha and Disco Deewane, become aggressive with Ratta Maar, and go liltingly romantic with Ishqwala Love. The campus carnivals would have been seriously incomplete without them.

All in all, a gaily entertaining watch, Student of the Year is a familiar Karan Johar film, but definitely not a typical one; I believe, the fun of watching the film, lies in reading it (or even looking upon it as a meta-text) against the entire oeuvre of Karan Johar productions. If not for anything else, watch it for its sheer gloss and glam and those beautiful bodies…Siddharth Malhotra, Varun Dhawan and well, Alia Bhatt too!

Image Courtesy: muskurahat.pk, movies.sulekha.com, entertainment.in.msn.com,

1 comment:

Anindo Sen said...

Let me confess, I liked this flick more than the other Karan Johar directorial ventures. I am not a fan of the typical Karan Johar films, they either irritate me because of the glibness or they bore me to sleep ('Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna' gave me a case of bad headache). But this one's too slick, and it is sticky as hell..... hahaha...... of the sugary kind. The incredulous and laughably blown up situations are enjoyable, largely because of the three gorgeous looking leads.
However, what interested me more were the common referencing that Karan has done that is, aptly put by you, bitchy at its best. And the telling influence that films like '3 Idiots', 'Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na' and 'Dil Chahta Hai' has had on Karan also made me chuckle and reflect on those films' tremendous appeal.