New Delhi: Fourteen years after he debuted as a director with 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai' and made Rani Mukherjee, Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan icons of college coolth, Karan Johar packs the same punch in his new film 'Student of the Year' starring three gorgeous newcomers Varun Dhawan, Siddharth Malhotra and Alia Bhatt.
This time the action shifts to St Teresa, a school you will mistake for the Buckingham Palace. The classrooms and the cafeteria are straight out of some glossy home decor magazine. The halls are stalked by kids so annoyingly bratty that you want to thwack them on the head just for the fun of it.
The plot is relatively straightforward. Closet gay principal of St Teresa unwittingly unleashes mayhem in the convoluted social lives of the students when he announces the opening of the annual 'Student of The Year' contest (much in the style of Professor Dumbledore opening the Triwizard Tournament at Hogwarts).
I was finishing school when KKHH was released. Like many of my generation, I was at a gawky phase of my life when I imagined even inanimate objects pointing and chuckling at my ugliness. To cut a long story short, I cried buckets inside the theatre watching KKHH, sympathising with Kajol and believing there's a man like Shah Rukh Khan waiting for me somewhere - who could finish his lab work unassisted and was intellectually above local rasgulla eating contests.
Incidentally, the school I went to was also called St Teresa and at that time I had wished my kind but horribly strict teachers were as ditzy as Anupam Kher and Archana Puran Singh. A guitar-playing student was stuff American dreams were made of and even though I vaguely recognised the fact that the cast was wearing branded clothes inside what was purportedly a school, it didn't seem out of place to me. At that time I sagaciously thought 'this is what life should be, not some dour classrooms with boring periods and mundane exams'.
However, 14 years have gone by and not much has changed in Johar's realm of cinema as 'Student of The Year' triggers strong nostalgia. The attitude, language and appearance of the students are adjusted to fit current times. But under the glossy clothes and the postcard cinematography, the heart of the film remains the same. The characters are as confused as they were back in KKHH, each caught in their own conundrums and making a hash of their personal lives.
Remember Malhotra, the liberal and loveable college principal played by Anupam Kher? Rishi Kapoor returns with this role and the unenviable task of keeping his students in line in SOTY. Only this time, he's gay. While Malhotra lusted after his colleague Ms Braganza, Principal Yoginder Vasisht, 'Yogi' to his students, has a crush on his married football team coach.
The school (St Xavier's in KKHH) is as grand with plush lawns dotting its landscape. The bullies - mostly kids of rich parents - are there. Initially fearsome, they are shown to have their hearts in the right place. But the biggest surprise is Sana Saeed - KKHH's innocent little Anjali - who plays a role so dramatically opposite to what made her famous that it staggers you a bit.
Farida Jalal is back, with her timeless, kind face, to play another mother figure to our leading star. One of the main protagonists Varun Dhawan, who plays Rohan Nanda reminded me of the flirty, bratty Shah Rukh Khan who would unabashedly hand out friendship bands to women in his college.
Alia Bhat replaces Rani Mukherjee as the classy chick caught in an improbable love triangle. And dear old Kajol makes a special appearance in a song.
The frequent flashing of the middle finger and the usage of cuss words to rib each other is new to Johar's brand of cinema. But I am assuming that's what campus life is like these days. The characters of 'Student of The Year' lack the emotional depth that made you fanatically root for KKHH's Anjali. But traces of that magic remain in the Hogwarts of Johar's imagination.