Student Of The Year: Karan Johar refuses to grow up
What has changed from Kuch Kuch to Hota Hai to Student of the Year is Karan Johar’s idea of time. In SOTY, the schoolmates who reunite ten years after school still seem frozen in their old school avatars. Everyone is just a slightly older version of who they were then.
Karan Johar’s Student of the Year (2012) is a love triangle set in a completely unreal boarding school called St. Teresa’s. His debut film Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) was a love triangle set in a completely unreal college called St. Xavier’s.
Not much has changed in the intervening 14 years. Karan Johar’s candyfloss aesthetic is certainly pretty much the same as it was when he began to make films. The American-style basketball courts and the branded clothes with which he sought to seduce his audiences in 1998 have simply been amplified several-fold to match our now much higher standards of consumption and display. So the young people at St. Teresa’s prance about in a haze of fast cars, discotheques and Louis Vuitton handbags, where they don’t need to bother their pretty little heads about such things as exams – and remember this is meant to be a boarding school, not a college.
Even though you can’t tell the difference by looking at them, the St. Teresa’s demographic is supposedly divided into the Tata bachche and the Bata bachche – Tata note de ke admission lete hain, aur Bata notes ratt ke. Joining St. Teresa’s, it seems, quickly needs you to pick one of the two camps: either you join the ABCs – Ameer bachche aur unke chamche (Rich kids and their sycophants) – or else you relegate yourself to the so-called ‘Pappu bachche’. And therein lies this film’s bare sliver of a plot: the arrival of a sports scholarship student called Abhimanyu (Siddharth Malhotra) who ought to be a Pappu or a chamcha, but refuses to be either. Which catapults him into battle with the school’s existing hero, wannabe rockstar Rohan (Varun Dhawan): a bade baap ke beta who drives a Ferrari and has managed to reserve both the school’s most prized parking space and its most sought-after girl.
Johar’s notion of what’s appealing in young women hasn’t changed much either: he’s still into spoilt, head-tossing brats obsessed with their looks. It isn’t a long trek from the impossibly annoying ‘Poo’ of Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham to the designer-obsessed Shanaya of Student of the Year. Only, in retrospect, Kareena made Poo kind of memorable. As for Alia Bhatt’s Shanaya, one might not remember her at all but for the red lipstick mouth that jumps out from her alarmingly white face.
But Bhatt can’t entirely be blamed, saddled as she is with a role as tragically muddled as this. The basketball court of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai in which Kajol played her ‘tomboy’ part has made way for a football field in which a girl has no role but to watch while the boys battle it out for the trophy. And if she’s lucky, the trophy might be hers. Shanaya’s teary outburst about not being the prize in some competition rings utterly false—because the whole of the rest of the film is set up to make us see her as exactly that. Girls in SOTY are allowed to compete, but mostly all they’re competing for is the boys.
What has changed from Kuch Kuch to Hota Hai to Student of the Year is Karan Johar’s idea of time. In Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, eight years after college was enough time for a marriage, a death, an eight-year-old child. The Shahrukh and Kajol who met after eight years were altered versions of themselves—more mature, transformed by life, whether in happy or unhappy ways.
In SOTY, the schoolmates who reunite ten years after school still seem frozen in their old school avatars. Everyone is just a slightly older version of who they were then. The hierarchies that propped up that artificial universe are entirely in place in the real world: the nerdy fat boy is still nerdy and fat – and single, the philanderer-brat and wannabe rockstar is now a philanderer-brat and a actual rockstar, the uber-competitive middle class boy has become an investment banker, the trophy girlfriend has become a trophy wife. (The sole smart competitive girl in school, though, has had her comeuppance: she is now ‘merely’ a housewife and mother.)
But perhaps there’s nothing to be surprised about. In a world in which Yash Johar’s son creates a star vehicle for Mahesh Bhatt’s daughter and David Dhawan’s son, it’s probably natural for life to seem preordained. I wish another world were possible.
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