Saturday, October 20, 2012

Student Of The Year is the surprise package of the year

Student Of The Year is Karan Johar's holiday film, apart from being the incumbent launch vehicle of three new actors who would have never imagined to debut in a film directed by Johar. Siddharth Malhotra, David Dhawan's son Varun and Mahesh Bhatt's daughter Aliaa make their debut in SOTY, a film that Karan made to get back to his style of cinema. I have always harbored respect for him for single- handedly trendsetting the big good looking picture format in Indian cinema with much portly ingenuity. He did not only triggered the trend of big budgeted films, but also films that looked ridiculously ginormous in their production scale and lavishness, along with having a lot of altruistic content. Honestly, Karan knows no other cinema, but he knows this one inside out. He knows how to make it, and how to sell it too. SOTY is no exception. The songs worked all through the promotional campaign of SOTY, but I had serious disturbing doubts if he would have got it right this time around. Every frame I saw from the movie looked to dissolve the boundaries of reality and be trifle overplayed into over the top fiction, that would leave behind a smudge of gloss with no savory feel to the film. All film lovers, like me, desperately wanted SOTY to work as this generation's Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander or Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, but the finches and mynas that flew out of Dharma Productions did not give the assurance that we were looking for.

This Wednesday night, post the premier of SOTY in Mumbai, in came a puzzling surprise when everyone who watched it seemed to like it, including the searing cynics, the ardent lovers and the lynching critics. I was instantly intrigued to go watch it on Thursday itself, to check out if it really works. At the end of this journey, I am happy to assert that Karan only went wrong with Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, never before, never after. Student Of The Year is the inevitable yet convivially the surprise package of the year. A lot of production houses and directors launch new talents, but these three kids have possibly bagged the greatest launch anyone could have. Big budgets, behemoth production values, brightly lit locations, razor-sharp styling, larger than life projections, bubblegum song and dance sequences and a spirited marketing campaign that almost engulfed Chakravyuh and many other films releasing in the surrounding weekends. Which debut actor gets to go to London and Dubai to promote the film? Yet, Karan backs up all the pulp and gloss with a lot of meat and shit ton of heart, with a distinct semblance of his understanding of cinema. Its hard to look sardonically at SOTY even when it plays out like an American sitcom that you would probably hate for cheeky cheesiness and placid predictability. The point here is SOTY never aspires to be ambitious or innovative, telling a simplistic tale of school friendship jeopardized by nail-biting competition, fickle emotions and overbearing social setups. Amidst the impossible scenarios of teenagers doing things we never did in school (dancing to peppy numbers at wink of an eye, driving the best cars that exist in this world, possessing the looks that would make your jaw drop, and living/studying at the spotlessly lavish places that one could imagine), SOTY never crams the proceedings with seriousness. The humor is fresh, the jokes are new and the emotions are as fickle as they are in reality. Karan is totally unapologetic about showing the beaten to death discrimination of rich and poor or playing out the expected. Yet, he coherently packs it with a lot of fun and engaging, engrossing you enough to relate with most of the characters, as you munch your popcorn through the tad bit long run time of 145 minutes. Written by Karan Johar and Rensil DeSilva, SOTY is bound to go down well with today's generation of teenagers and beyond. The writing doesnt take sides with its characters, and allows them to be immature or grey if they have to be, as they learn their lessons of life and go on to impart some of them to its viewers. Everyone is in a competition and relationships change overnight, but what are they really running after? Its Karan's masterclass to poke fun at the blinding race shown in his own film with a lot of stress on the significance on basic values of friendship and life, yet keep it extremely breezy and entertaining, veering away from the saccharine.

Student Of The Year keeps you hooked because of its efficient writing of stereotypical characters and striking direction. Yet, it comes with its share of snags. It gets a wee bit longer than you want it to. A sequence involving a treasure hunt comes out as blatantly childish and stupid. The different levels of the competition do take a backseat at times when it comes to the love story and the emotional playground, yet that doesnt hurt the purpose. A particular sequence devoid of dialogue (only background music) right before the interval is a crackling piece of direction. Produced by Dharma Productions and SRK's Red Chillies Productions and distributed by Eros International, SOTY has a bounty of cash being poured in every single frame to make it look like a portrait. Amrita Mahal's Production Design is classy and stunning. Each locale and setting is shiny, spotless and suave. Ayananka Bose's Cinematography is prophetically brilliant, yet I would have wanted to see a better capture of the sports sequences. Music by Vishal-Shekhar carries the wiry jumpiness of the youth today but there could be one too many songs in the film, though Johar has tried to use them smartly, specially Ishq Wala Love is utilized to take the story forward, instead of just a brazen plugin. Yet, Radha and Kukkad are unnecessary. Editing could have been way more crisper.

Time and again, a host of new faces have hit the silver screen in various productions every year. However, it has been terribly hard to find new talents that dont come out as amateurs at some instant in the movie. The three kids here, Siddharth, Aliaa and Varun, dunk through the immense pressure of a KJo film on their head and virtuously put in an earnest effort that makes the movie work. Karan has been able to extract respectable performances from his hugely new cast. Aliaa Bhatt scares you to be like an annoying Sonam Kapoor initially but grows on to become much more rooted and lovable girl next door. Siddharth Malhotra is wondrously dapper, but plays a slightly difficult character with a rare confidence and immersive emotional heft. But the show stealer amongst the three debutantes turns out to Varun Dhawan. Playing the character of a spoilt brat yet an unassuming friend, Dhawan allures you with more than just the multiple topless shots of his physique. Given the right roles, Dhawan is bound to go places, while even the other two show no hammy parlance that you expect them to. Rishi Kapoor shines in yet another supporting role after Agneepath. He walks into any character with striking intuitiveness and its a treat to see him dance or do the Dafliwala step. While Ronit Roy and Ram Kapoor are comfortably okay, its Boman Irani who leaves a mark in just one hilarious scene. If not for him, his son Kayoze Irani, makes his acting debut in a sufficiently extended role and delivers a brilliant sequence in the climax. Sana Saeed (KKHH's Anjali) was a better actress back then, though she is saddled with an annoying character in this one. Its a treat to watch Farida Jalal even for a few scenes as the veteran actress is indefatigably charming. The actors playing Shruti and Jeet provide a set of laughs too, apart from doing well in their parts.

Student Of The Year is a surprise film that thoroughly entertains you when you least expect it to. Its set in an imaginary world of Karan Johar, but is embellished with a lot of astute moments that win the competition for this one. You may find it insipid due to its branding as a typical Hindi film with all its ingredients, but beyond that genre's dreck, there is a strong undercurrent of gyrating freshness. Owing to Karan's exceptional marketing of new faces, SOTY has got an amazing prevailing buzz leading up to its release. Surprisingly, a large number of people around me were waiting to run to the theaters this week and the film has taken a big opening, which has not happened since the times of Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai. The word of mouth is always good when an audience is entertained and I would definitely be interested in watching the collections of this one. Whether you are a guy or a girl, if you love your bros or hoes, dont miss this one!

Rating - 3/5

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