Fans of the candyfloss cinema of Bollywood’s biggest director, Karan Johar ('My Name is Khan', 'Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna'), will love this light and undemanding ‘bromance’. Once again, Johar’s good-looking characters live in an imaginary India where everyone sports the latest designer labels and only worry about whether there’s enough space for their friends on daddy’s private jet on their next foreign holiday.
Wealthy Rohan (Varun Dhawan) takes a shine to athletic Abhi (Sidharth Malhotra) at Saint Teresa, ‘India’s premier academic institution’. When Rohan catches his pouting girlfriend, Shanaya (Alia Bhatt), kissing his new best buddy, Abhi, the lads fall out. They become rivals in the annual competition which gives ‘Student of the Year’ its title. We must believe that the outcome changes their lives forever.
On one level, this is a clichéd coming-of-age tale about male friendship. Johar attempts characterisation by giving the students ‘damaged’ backgrounds, referencing the class divide and a dying grandma. But it’s difficult to engage with these perfect gym bunnies. It’s really a boy-meets-boy love story. Rohan confesses to Abhi that he is ‘confused’ about love, and they hug. In fact, our frequently semi-nude boys often hug but also constantly joke that they won’t kiss. The film’s gay sensibilities are confused, and worryingly so. The Dean of the college (Rishi Kapoor) is presented as a laughable, limp-wristed ‘pansy’. He dies a sad, lonely death.
But to read more into this glossy film is to give it more credit than it deserves and to see intentions where there are none. It's an escapist entertainment which delivers on its promise of formulaic fluff. Johar takes a commercial risk by introducing three new lead actors who fail to shine, but the peppy songs, frustratingly not subtitled, add to the appeal of this handsome film. ‘Student of the Year’ passes – but without distinction.