Director: Punit Malhotra

Cast: Tiger Shroff, Ananya Panday, Tara Sutaria

First, let’s understand the ground rules. These were set not in 2012 when Student of the Year released but in 1998 when Karan Johar made Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Way back then, we all made peace with the fact that educational institutes in Dharma movies were a singularly unique fantasy, inspired largely by American high school movies, with little or no resemblance to Indian schools and colleges. These were spaces drenched in bubblegum colors and industrial-strength cool where Rahul could glide down the hallways on a skateboard and have basketball duels with Anjali. Student of the Year reinforced that template. A character in the film even told us about St. Teresa – Yeh koi normal school nahin tha, apne aap mein ek alag hi duniya thi yeh. So when you walk into Student of the Year 2, you can’t complain about the lack of realism or ask questions like, “Why don’t these students ever open a book? Which school in Dehradun would have amenities like this?” etc. etc.  You signed up for a fantasy and that’s precisely what director Punit Malhotra is providing.

What you can complain about is the poor writing. The screenplay by Arshad Syed takes the battle a notch higher – now it’s no longer just about the student of the year competition. It’s about the Dignity Cup that pits colleges in the Dehradun area against each other. St. Teresa is of course where the rich kids go – they drive snazzy cars, hang in snazzier nightclubs and look like they’ve come to college straight from a Vogue photo-shoot. Debutantes Tara Sutaria and Ananya Panday are introduced like they’re models in shampoo commercials with hair flying in slow motion. The kids here never study. But they are all very fit and they spend a lot of time participating in dance competitions and sports, especially kabaddi. The prime player is Manav, a super sportsman who sneers more than he smiles. Manav has an entourage of beefy boys who have their hair standing upright two inches above their head – perhaps they are all Guru Randhawa fans. On the other side of the tracks is the Pishori Chamanlal college where the middle-class kids go. This is such a sorry space that the coach can’t give a speech because rats have chewed through the mike wires. But they’ve got one thing going for them – Tiger Shroff.

Notice that I didn’t say Rohan, the name of his character, because it hardly matters. Tiger is doing here what he does in his other films – playing an earnest, upright boy who dances like he has no bones in his body and beats up people with the grace of a dancer. This is a 2 hour 25-minute film and for a lot of it, Tiger is airborne. Even when he goes to meet his childhood sweetheart, he doesn’t bother walking – he’s leaping, pirouetting and traipsing across terraces. Tiger does all of this effortlessly. He has a sweetness and sincerity that makes him watchable.  Which is perhaps why Punit and Arshad place most of the burden of SOTY 2 on his biceps. In Student of the Year, supporting characters like Pseudo and Dimpy also got an opportunity to shine but here, there is little to watch except Tiger.

Tiger Shroff has a sweetness and sincerity that makes him watchable.  Which is perhaps why most of the burden of SOTY 2 is placed on his biceps

The girls are written as vapid glam dolls without the personality and vivaciousness of a character like Poo. In the first film, Abhimanyu says about Shanaya: zyada clever nahin hai. But Shanaya seems like Einstein in comparison to the two here. Both Mia and Shreya talk about dancing ambitions but mostly they are trophies in the testosterone battle between Manav and Rohan. Ananya, playing the poor little rich girl Shreya, gets a miniature character arc and she makes the most of it. She shows some spark. But Tara, as Mia, is lost in designer clothes and perfectly coiffed hair.

In my review of Student of the Year, I had said that Karan’s films work as both designer porn and soap opera. Punit gets the designer porn bang on but the drama and emotion is sorely missing. Any hurdles that the plot sets up are smoothed over in a few scenes. At one point, Rohan breaks down in his mother’s arms but Punit doesn’t hold here perhaps because that would make Tiger appear too vulnerable. Cut to Rohan’s mother providing a life lesson and Rohan finding the strength to battle the brats of St. Teresa. Shreya has daddy issues which are also resolved in exactly one scene. The narrative is painfully simplistic – it’s all about class conflict but the rich are lonely and curdled while the middle-class folks are loving and supportive. Which allows us to ogle at the shiny cars and clothes but still have the satisfaction of feeling morally superior.

Any hurdles that the plot sets up are smoothed over in a few scenes

The film shifts gears going from High School Musical to Chak De – we even get a training montage and a locker room speech.  And there is very little humor here – I love the dialogue Sajni mili toh Ghajini ban gaya but mostly, the film is deathly serious. Even when the plot becomes downright silly – SOTY 2 sets up Dehradun as the hotspot for dance competitions. Even Will Smith makes an appearance. The first film also had its share of silliness but Karan gave it an emotional core and both Varun Dhawan and Sidharth Malhotra were very good. As was Vishal-Shekhar’s music. In this edition, only the remixed ‘Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani’ is memorable.

Tiger had said in an interview that the film is an entertaining experience and viewers shouldn’t bring their thinking caps. In any case, by the time the predictable climactic kabaddi match was over, I was too tired to think.  Student of the Year 2 ends with ‘The Hook Up Song’ in which Alia Bhatt shimmies down a pole and gyrates in a room with a shirtless Tiger. I thought – why not just make a film with these two? Or perhaps resurrect the very funny gay dean played by Rishi Kapoor in the first film and give him his own spin-off. I really think we need to give St. Teresa’s a break.

Read: Film Companion will no longer have star ratings for reviews. Baradwaj Rangan explains why

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