Student of the Year 2 prioritises unnecessary male objectification over a logical plot, and it shows
As a 15-year old watching Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (KKHH) when it released in 1998, I remember being transfixed by the lead characters and their story— a gawky, tomboyish Anjali and her best friend, the college stud, Rahul. Their friendship evolves into a love story, and they are reunited, eight years later. For much of my childhood and adulthood, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai had me believing in a forever-love that is rooted in friendship (and I still do!).
Considering the movie’s cult status, it’s safe to say that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. An inseparable duo and the classic Bollywood premise of “Pyar Dosti Hai” had both the young and old lapping it up. Karan Johar’s directorial debut had the “cool” factor and a bankable, winning formula that he would go on to employ through the years.
Progressively amping up the glam factor, but sadly, losing the plot.
We’ve seen glimpses of the glitzy student life in the 2001-release Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (K3G). Set against the backdrop of a family drama, the movie features Rohan Raichand’s larger-than-life college stint and love story, which was still comprehendible. With the 2012-release Student of the Year (SOTY), Johar has established his expertise in all things “students” and in depicting an aspirational college life.
In his utopian world, students have perfectly chiselled and groomed bodies, boys drive around campus in a swanky set of wheels, girls sport designer wear (Alia Bhatt as Shanaya Singhania makes her entry with a song that rattles off all the brand names she loves) and students prove their worth with inconsequential competitions that in no way, have real-world significance.
The sequel, Student of the Year 2 (SOTY 2) comes seven years later, but looks and feels like the original, on steroids. Add a few flying kicks, kabaddi matches, two debutantes vying for the attention of the hero…and you have SOTY 2.
Even if— for a minute— you were to consider these movies as “light and breezy entertainment” or a source of escapism, it becomes difficult to forego the messages that the franchise embodies, especially for teens and young adults.
When pressure to fit in is already paramount, the SOTY franchise pushes a narrative that equates material wealth with popularity and fame. Talk to young urbanites, and they will tell you why they want to own a pair of Louis Vuitton or Manolo Blahniks, talk to them about their college preferences and a mention of top-tier colleges (read glamorous) will sneak in the conversation.
However, the biggest problem with the franchise is that it sexualises and objectifies college students.
In his introduction song 'Kukkad', Sidharth Malhotra as Abhimanyu Singh pours water down his head after a basketball game. The camera zooms in as water drips down his chiselled abs and in the foreground, college girls prance around him and exclaim “Oh My God!”
In the same song, a 19-year old Alia Bhatt as Shanaya Singhania, dances in lingerie.
I’ll call its predecessor subtle, because SOTY 2 pushes the envelope on these problematic messages. Sexualising women is all too common in Bollywood, but equally disturbing is SOTY 2’s objectification of the male lead, Rohan Sachdev as played by Tiger Shroff. With several bare-chested action and song scenes, Shroff serves an ample dose of “eye candy.”
In the 3:05 minute trailer itself, I’ve lost count of the number of times you can see a shirtless Shroff dancing, kicking, twirling, performing acrobatics or simply spraying a deodorant. The viral songs ('The Hook Up song' and 'Mumbai Dilli di Kudiyaan') have him either shirtless or in an unbuttoned shirt.
It makes me wonder if Dharma Productions is using the sex appeal of Shroff’s chiselled abs or machoism to sell us a movie that is devoid of any plot or logic.
You might ask, “Well, how is that different from a shirtless Salman Khan belting out ‘O O jane jaana’ or Hrithik Roshan in the 2000s?” There is a difference— in the age of content consumption, young people have access to far more resources. Their impressionable minds are actively shaped by Bollywood and popular culture. Interestingly, Shroff won a GQ Youth Icon of the Year title in 2016 and enjoys immense popularity among the youth.
It gives young boys the wrong message that they need to look a certain way, meet unrealistic body or masculinity standards to succeed in college and in life.
Secondly, in the wake of #MeToo conversations, it becomes imperative to teach young men and women that objectifying, harassing or assaulting women and men is not okay. Shroff’s sexualisation, combined with lyrics like “Soniya, hole se chal zara, fursat se main taad loon,” (in the song 'Jatt Ludhiyane Da' with Tara Sutaria serenading him) reinforce the narrative that is okay for women to ogle at and sexualize men.
In a utopian situation, I would rather see a safer world for my young sisters, brothers, cousins, nieces, and nephews, as opposed to the idealistic and glamorous life that Dharma Productions wants us to aspire for.
Shaistha Khan is a Middle East-based freelance writer who writes on culture and travel.
Updated Date: May 14, 2019 07:57:29 IST
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