Whatever you say about Student of the Year 2, you'll have to admit it possesses a sense of irony. Here's a sequel without a shred of dignity, but revolving around a sporting trophy called… Dignity Cup. Though, on second thought, maybe that's really about the line of brassieres clothes worn by the female leads (Tara Sutaria as Mia, Ananya Panday as Shreya). They always seem one hand-stretch away from a wardrobe malfunction. A small army of tailors has worked very, very hard to maintain their… cups of dignity. The college student who looks like she stepped out of a Dior perfume ad isn't new, of course. It goes back at least as far as Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, which made an entire nation of young boys reconsider IIT coaching classes in favour of whatever exam would get them into the Karan Johar Schools of Higher Education, where the female students apparently couldn't get a hall ticket unless they wore a miniskirt. But KKHH had more. Much more. It had characters. It had a plot. SOTY 2, on the other hand, has Tiger Shroff's biceps. And triceps. And lats. And glutes. The film, too, is all glutes. It's a major bummer.
Even the title seems all wrong. Given that hero (Rohan, played by Tiger) is 29 and his opponent (Manav, played by Aditya Seal) is 31, I would have gone with 'Millennials in Their Second Dotcom Job' of the Year 2. This isn't about authenticity. After all, Aamir Khan was 27 when he starred in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, which SOTY 2 is a kinda-sorta remake of. It's about the utter lack of young-ness, student-ness, that morning-dew freshness of youth you sense when you watch Pehla nasha for the 2769th time. Rohan and Manav face off like grown-ups, like a masala-movie hero and villain. Manav's rich. He could be saying: Mere paas maal hai. When he senses Rohan has an eye on the coveted trophy, he could be thinking: Dignity Cup ko pakadna mushkil hi nahin, namumkin hai. Rohan, meanwhile, isn't giving up without a fight, even though Manav's father is one of the college's trustees. He's thinking: Yeh college hai, tumhare baap ka ghar nahin.
In the midst of this sea of testosterone, the women come off a little better. For one, they actually look like students. And their characters have adolescent vulnerabilities built into them. Mia has shucked off her original name, Mridula, as it's not "cool". She gets a nice line when Rohan, who loves her from when they were students, says he's come to this posh college because she moved there. She tells him she's here so she can make something of her life, not to make his. And yet, she can't help being seduced by Manav's glitter. You could call her a benign version of Pooja Bedi's gold-digger character from JJWS, except that she doesn't get a scene where her flaming red dress billows up like Marilyn Monroe's in The Seven Year Itch. Given the length of Mia's skirts, the film would be slapped with an NC-17 if they flew up any higher. Tara Sutaria is not bad, despite a role about as long as… those skirts.
It's Ananya Panday who makes the movie. No, scratch that. She makes a small bit of the post-interval portion, where Shreya falls for Rohan. The young actress has a gosling's gawkiness. Shreya is not fully formed, and even her declaration of love is half-hearted — not because she doesn't mean it, but probably because she doesn't know what it means to be in love. She's this film's Varun Dhawan. She takes lines and scenes that should be flushed down the toilet and freshens them with Odonil. (Now, that's… dignity.) I especially liked her in the scene where Rohan, whom Shreya was sparring with so far, comes up and says he wants to be friends. She tells him not to go all soft now, because that will kill her pleasure in watching him lose. And the scenes with Shreya, Rohan and Mia are cute and cheesy and corny and everything you want a dumb, empty-calorie college romance to be. If there's an SOTY 3, launching Neelam's daughter and Sanjay Kapoor's son, I suggest they drop the competitive games and make it a full-fledged love triangle.
Which isn't to say SOTY 2 is entirely unoriginal. After all, it does perform a stunning subversion on its predecessor, which revolved around two men and one woman. Here, we have — wait for it! — two women and one man. Let it not be said that director Punit Malhotra lacks ambition. He even pulls a gender twist on the homosexual angle. Instead of a gay principal, we have a lesbian sports coach. It's refreshing to see a female (Gul Panag) calling the shots in a traditionally male domain, though once again, one wishes the character actually had something to do other than make us think "Hey, Gul Panag is still around". The film, expectedly, looks gorgeous. Ravi K Chandran appears to have hired every working generator in Mumbai — every inch, every corner, every muscle on Tiger Shroff is lit in a manner that makes the sheesh mahal in Mughal-e-Azam look like Om Puri's flat in Ardh Satya. The lighting design of the updated Yeh jawaani hai deewani is especially eye-boggling. Vishal-Shekhar come up with two other lovely songs, Fakira and Main bhi nahin soya. The latter may be what people shuffling outside the theatre, after the end-credits Alia Bhatt number, end up saying to each other.
All this — the clothes, the technicians, the sets, Tiger Shroff — must have cost crores, so why does Arshad Sayed's script feel like it cost 50 paise? This is a question we keep asking our big-budget productions. SOTY 2 is undernourished and overlong. These films should be fun, the equivalent of a fizzy soda on a summer's day. What we get feels like a waiter passing off the contents of a used finger bowl as lemonade. A woman bursting into a twerky taandav when filled with angst? A man realising the value of friends he has hurt? Been there, seen it all. Even fans of Tiger Shroff's athleticism will be left frowning at the staleness. He converts everything to Swan Lake, even kabaddi. Balletic grace is one thing, but the fun of this sport is in its rough-and-tumble earthiness. He glams it up. But then, that's the Dharma Productions aesthetic. It isn't just the clothes that look like they've been flown in from Milan. It's the whole movie. Couture Couture Hota Hai.