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  • Published 20.10.12

Fourteen autumns ago, a boy and a girl mistook love for friendship and went their separate ways, only to realise their feelings for each other and reunite eight years later. Karan Johar, then making his debut as a young man of 26, was lauded for his mature handling of romance and relationships, his ability to transition smoothly from a fluffy college romance to complicated matters of the heart establishing him as one of the exciting new talents to watch out for. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai still remains a cult Bolly romance, a coming-of-age film that made every couple in love root for Rahul and Anjali.

Since then, Karan has explored filial ties (Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham), extramarital relationships (Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna) and love in the time of hate (My Name Is Khan), earning more bouquets than brickbats along the way. Even as producer, he has taken an offbeat route — from a breezy bromance like Dostana to racial stereotyping in Kurbaan. This year alone, his productions have been as diverse as a cult remake in Agneepath and a refreshing rom com in Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu.

So when the man who first made college corridors cool in Bollywood revealed that he was going back to campus, the thought uppermost on everyone’s minds was: Will Student of the Year (SOTY) be the Kuch Kuch Hota Hai of this generation? Well, truth be told, if that was a fresh film, boosted by the effervescence of its lead trio and Karan’s mature writing, SOTY has enough fluff and glam to keep your eyeballs engaged, but not enough in its script to keep you riveted.

The world of SOTY is divorced from reality. The drama unfolds in Saint Theresa’s — which its cool boys and girls refer to as St T’s. Here the rich boys vroom in in flashy Ferraris while the girls are dipped from tip to toe in Gucci and Galliano. It’s a campus where being caught studying is uncool and ‘bro’ and ‘dude’ is the vocab of choice. Ripped bodies and eight packs, plunging necklines and rising hemlines define the campus. The divide between the rich and the not-so-rich is clearly spelt out — the middle-class boy needs cash for his science project, the rich girl splurges on push-up bras. It’s also a world in which the entire school zips off abroad for the wedding of a student’s brother.

It’s a fantasyland, this St T’s campus. So when the principal — Rishi Kapoor, who carries a Louis Vuitton case and a Burberry umbrella — announces a competition to crown the student of the year, one can be sure that the eligibility criteria is definitely not going to be grey matter. A KBC-styled multiple-choice round, a dance competition, a treasure hunt (!) and then a swimming-cycling-sprinting showdown is what is going to decide the student of the year, the one whose subsequent studies is going to be sponsored by an Ivy League college.

Reason enough for Abhimanyu (Siddharth Malhotra) and Rohan (Varun Dhawan) to plunge into the competition. If the orphaned Abhimanyu has his sights set on using the contest to get ahead in life, the relatively laidback Rohan is a poor little rich boy who wants to prove a point to his overly critical billionaire father (played by Ram Kapoor). The two boys start off as rivals, but end up as best pals. However, as the competition heats up, the two fall out, the rift between them only deepened by the feelings they both nurture for Shanaya (Alia Bhatt).

Despite the linear narrative, Karan manages to keep the first half breezy. Day-to-day campus capers, budding romances in every corridor and the song and dance keep the interest alive. The narrative style is an inspiration from the flashback-storytelling technique of Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na, but not half as effective.

But the bromance between the two boys is fun, with Karan channelling his own Dostana to bring on the laughs. The camera lingers enough on Varun’s pecs and Siddharth’s abs to satiate the female gaze. For the men, there is Alia to feast on, tiny bikini to LGD (little gold dress)!

But glam and gloss has a shelf life and at two hours and 25 minutes, SOTY, stunted by a wafer-thin script and little depth in its characters, starts to get more than a little heavy. The boys glare and pummel fists into each other while the girl alternates between staring helplessly and pulling them apart as one silly competition gives way to another. By the time the contest reaches its last leg, you can pretty much tell who will ace the competition and who will take the girl home. And by then, you really don’t care.

But this is a film that aims to please your eyes and not stimulate your grey cells and Karan gets that spot-on. Siddharth and Varun make assured debuts, their easy screen presence and affable personalities holding up the film. There is very little to choose between the two — Varun is the better mover, Siddharth the better looker; Sid is more intense but Varun more camera-friendly. Playing the college bimbette, Alia doesn’t have to do much more than just look pretty, something that she manages without getting a hair out of place. While her acting chops remain suspect, she looks like a dream in The Disco Song. And yes, no one does red lips better.

Side players that deserve a mention include Balaji men Ram Kapoor and Ronit Roy (as the school’s sports coach) and debutant Kayoze Irani, Boman’s son, who delivers as the campus’s Big Moose.

Vishal-Shekhar score big in the music department, with The Disco Song, Vele, Ishqwala love and Radha rapidly becoming teen anthems. A special mention for Ayananka Bose’s camera that beautifully captures the sun-kissed beaches of Thailand, the snow-clad climes of Kashmir and the sprawling greens of St T’s.

But it isn’t the pretty people or the foot-tapping numbers that should make you buy a ticket this weekend. As the gay principal who totters around in pink necktie, polka-dotted shirts and red-rimmed Raybans and has his sights set on the sports coach, Rishi Kapoor is a knockout. SOTY just reinforces the amazing range of this actor — from the menacing Rauf Lala in Agneepath earlier this year to the effeminate do-gooder with a heart of gold here. And when the pot-bellied man with the still-killer smile throws the young brigade off the stage to break into that famous Dafliwale jig, you know that all’s right with the world. And with our movies.