Why I could never win Student of the Year

Written by  //  November 2, 2012  //  Media & Popular Culture  //  9 Comments

[A Guest Post by Suharsh Sinha. Suharsh is a lawyer working in London who can be regularly found outside Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue on every Friday of a Bollywood movie's London release]

It is not with the greatest pride that I admit that I was one of the first few people who queued up to watch K’Jo’s latest charade, SOTY. For the avoidance of doubt, I am talking about Karan Johar’s Student of the Year. Using acronyms, as we well know, is a desperate crutch KJo’s marketing machine uses to make him, his products and his consumers sound sexier and more youthful.

I don’t fancy myself as a movie critic and this is not a movie review. So I will not go into issues of screenplay and plot. But, even if was a movie review, I needn’t have expounded on such trivialities because having a plot is a liberty KJo consistently refrains from taking. Which begs the question: What is this piece that you are reading? Without any KJo style pretensions, I must confess this is just an angry rant. By somebody (an urban, middle class NRI living in London) who is often vilified as the core audience of KJo’s vacuous experiments with truth.
This movie is about 3 school kids and a school like no other. The kids are beautiful, have impossibly toned bodies are super-rich or super talented. As an apology for being so privileged, they have been provided with a convenient sob-story background. They study in an unreal elite Indian school which would put Doon or Mayo to shame. The movie also has a caricatured gay principal (called ‘Dean’ in the American style) and a football coach who dresses immaculately but is seldom seen coaching the team. The emphasis is on sanitised locations, good looks and Fifth-avenue brands including a Burberry umbrella that the Dean carries when he is out in the sun. If you were wondering where KJo discovered such a talented star cast to essay these deep characters from, you wont be surprised. Hero No. 1 is David Dhawan’s son (pun unintended), Hero No. 2 was his Assistant Director and the Heroine is Mahesh Bhatt’s daughter.  And the Dean is Rishi Kapoor who KJo calls ‘Chintu Uncle’ as the most reliable newspaper of our times – the Times of India, or rather ToI dutifully reports. The nerdy fat boy is Boman Irani’s son. This is jugaad at its Indian best and the cast looks more incestuous than the Lok Sabha.
So why has this movie made me feel so violated that I’m having to vent my anger in public? Its nothing personal to be honest. But then there is nothing personal when Ravindra Jadeja plays for India either. It’s just, well…irritating. And irritating on several counts. But since I run the risk of being labelled a fashionable anti-KJo bigot, let me present my case.

First, I am not a feel-good-movie basher. I believe that the average viewer is not biased against any particular genre of movies – it is the quality and depth of the movie that matters. So it is not a fairy tale/candy floss romance that I am opposed to. I am just opposed to it being done in a templated and insincere manner. Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikanadar, Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin (incidentally a Roman Holiday rip-off) or Jab We Met and Jane Tu Ya Jane Na – all fall in the same broad genre as SOTY. But they had believable characters, relatable situations and some genuinely touching moments. SOTY on the other hand has the feel and look of an assembly line product. I can safely say that each Tata Nano has more character and individuality than SOTY.

Secondly, I am not a pretentious art house aficionado. You don’t have to love Nihalani, Ray, Polanski or Kurosawa to hate KJo. I am just your average movie goer. But KJo is unfortunately too average a film maker. Except for My Name is Khan (or MNIK) I have seen all his movies in snippets on TV/youtube. And I deliberately avoided MNIK since it was touted as KJo’s Citizen Kane and that was a threat grave enough for me to avoid it even on an Air India flight. KJo’s world view starts with South Bombay and ends with the Upper East or Hyde Park. Again, mind you, I am not saying that good cinema has to be about farmer suicides, slum children or mofussil monotony. But a director who once famously remarked that he has never seen a real farmer in his life obviously has a very blinkered world view. This half baked vision of the complex and stratified world we live in obviously gets reflected even when he is portraying the GMT and GMT +4.30 time zone that he dwells in. His fallacy lies in failing to realise that most of the young NRI/urban Indian audience also come from towns and middle class families teeming in the India living beyond Cuffe Parade and GK II. Their aspirations, value systems, ambitions and even mundane lives are hardly captured in KJO’s fantasy fests. On the other hand someone like Imtiaz Ali who started off by funding his amateur theatre group in Jamshedpur from donations from Tata employees and after a long struggle found his space in Bollywood captures the subtlety and romance of daily lives much more accurately. Movies like Love Aaj Kal or Jab We Met, by no means Laxman’s 281, are still Kohli’s 183. They too deal with urban romance yet they have characters and stories which most of us in our lives have seen or experienced. They seem quite dramatic and’movie like’, yet you feel – Hey ! that almost happened to me once ! That I believe is where the romance in romantic movies lies. KJo sells you a fake world of riches, beauty and vanity.

Lastly, what irks me is KJo’s endorsement of the 2 worst Hindi movie hangovers from the 80s and 90s – mainstream Bollywood’s most creatively bankrupt and mediocre era – oversimplification of characters and reductionism of storylines. People are either cloyingly sweet or despicable war criminals. And even the Idi Amins of KJo’s movies realise before the end that their moral compass was on IOS6 and conveniently revert to Google maps. And of course, to add emotional depth, someone has to die in a KJo movie. The person dying either had a personality defect thereby giving rise to the central (and most banal) conflict in the movie; or was ‘devta saman’ and led a life of profound sacrifice and humanity overflowing with the milk of human kindness. Either way his/her death brings about a KJo equivalent of a cabinet re-shuffle in the movie. Characters mutate from fitting into stereotype A into stereotype B. Those who didn’t realize the value of true love, family, sacrifice and related emotions conveniently begin to do so and are handsomely rewarded with more melodramatic scenes. Those who always possessed such altruistic depths are rewarded with silent ‘I – told – you -so’ tears rolling down in slow motion. Those who lie in the middle don’t get into the movie in the first place.

I could go on much much longer. But I work in a law firm and have a deadline to meet. And my boss happens to be an Idi Amin without any moral compass. But I can’t resist one final argument: KJO believers might say that in the ultimate analysis what matters is how much money the movie has made. To them I would point out something a very wise and dear friend with a panache for instant logic once told me. In the dying throes of a losing an argument where my choice of popular fiction (Shoaib Akhtar’s autobiography) had outsold his choice he delivered the killer punch – ‘there is a youtube video of a man peeing on a cat and it has a million views – that it is popular does not make it good’. Just to buttress my point, Laxman’s 281 doesn’t come close to a million view on Youtube.

[Photo credit: http://www.bollywoodhungama.com]

About the Author

Arghya is currently doing the doctorate in law at the University of Oxford. Dithering between academia and litigation for a future career but sanguine in Oxford with his current researcher status.

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9 Comments on "Why I could never win Student of the Year"

  1. Nitin November 3, 2012 at 4:11 am ·

    You could always choose not to watch his movies. He has released enough for you to know what they are about man! He himself has said that he doesn’t know how to make anything else – cut him some slack!

  2. Preetinder November 3, 2012 at 1:13 pm ·

    I get a hard one watching Kjo flicks.

  3. Nidheesh Manu November 3, 2012 at 1:14 pm ·

    No at all – lets not give him an inch of slack.

    The man and his works are embarrassing.

  4. Jayant srinivasan November 3, 2012 at 1:15 pm ·

    lol preeto..tere kya bahraah baj gaye hai kya phirse!!

  5. Harsh November 5, 2012 at 4:58 am ·

    “Each Tata Nano has more character and individuality than SOTY” Ha Ha!
    Bad films leave a lot more to discuss and be angry about, leading for disgruntled youth across nations to unite and console each other, that is their purpose. (that’s my explanation for being robbed of 300 bucks and 2 1/2 hours of my life)

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