Not a lot of newcomers could have pulled off the role of Shanaya Singhania – a glamorous and spoilt yet emotional young girl, who just wants to be loved. Alia Bhatt as Shanaya in Karan Johar’s Student of the Year was a great casting choice and in my opinion, even 10 years later, Shanaya remains Bhatt’s most entertaining performance till date.
When Shanaya is introduced to us to the background music of ‘Gulaabi Aakhein’ we see a teenager who has everything any girl her age would want. However, as the movie progresses we see an unhappy girl living with a façade of happiness. Shanaya wants to be her boyfriend Rohan’s (played by Varun Dhawan) priority, but can never be, because he’s just not interested in committing to her. In comes Abhimanyu (played by Sidharth Malhotra) who has what she needs – emotional availability. It doesn’t take Abhi long to understand Shanaya and the duo become unlikely allies, who come up with a plan to make Rohan see Shanaya’s worth.
Everything goes awry when Abhi starts to fall for Shanaya, and Shanaya being as sweet and innocent as a child doesn’t see him catch feelings for her. There’s a shift in the nature of the movie from here – Shanaya and Rohan are happy now, but Abhi is upset. The main conflict however comes in the form of a competition for Shanaya’s attention, both boys try their hardest to impress her, one by showing physical affection and the other by staring at her longingly and using the classic technique of ignoring her.
Confused about her feelings and not wanting to play with anyone’s heart Shanaya tactfully ticks off Rohan and Abhi, saying in a fit of emotion that she’s not a trophy they can win over by fighting each other. The character might have been introduced as a silly rich spoilt girl who gave Marie Antionette vibes, but as she uncovers more of herself through the scenes, we discover she is much more than was let on during her introduction scene.
In a movie with senior actors like Rishi Kapoor, Ram Kapoor and Ronit Roy, Bhatt stands her ground and plays the poor rich girl very gracefully and memorably. The movie has some undoubtedly problematic scenes that did not age well, but no one can disagree with how perfect Bhatt was for the role and how well she managed to play Shanaya – a role that was easy to play badly. She evokes sympathy and as the audience you constantly feel like she could do much better throughout the movie, which she agrees with and ends up doing eventually.
Bhatt still had a long way to go in mastering her craft, but as Shanaya Singhania she successfully established herself as a contemporary Bollywood actress who had a lot to offer – something that was proven by her performances in Raazi, Highway and Dear Zindagi.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.