Karan Johar stated his directing career in junior college, and he returns there for his new movie Student of the Year. Unlike the cheery and fun-loving characters of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, the three best friends in Student of the Year are made of sterner stuff. Two boys compete for an award for the most well-rounded student as well for the affections of their female friend – gone are the weepy sacrifices that KKHH’s characters made for each other.
Nasty students abound in Ketan Mehta’s little-seen Holi, which is based on the Mahesh Elkunchwar play. Made in 1984, the movie holds up a mirror to the post-Emergency and pre-reforms years that saw social and political tumult in several parts of the country. (The film is up on YouTube). This was the decade of highly vocal and heavily politicised student unions, which Ram Gopal Varma dealt with in 1989 in his Telugu movie Siva, remade a year later in Hindi as Shiva .
Holi’s intensely coiled, ultra-macho students revolt because they are not being given a holiday on the day of the spring festival. Their simmering resentment initially leads to something like a union. Bereft of ideological underpinnings, however, the agitation soon leaches into senseless violence. By the time Shiva had been released, there was little to tell apart college-goers from gangsters.
Students don’t even have to enter their late teens to display the extent of their nastiness. William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies, which was adapted twice on film, remains one of the definitive texts about the primitive violence that lurks at the heart of public school types. South Korean films Oldboy (which is based on a Japanese manga) and Mother have students committing unspeakable crimes while still in their uniforms. School is the laboratory for future hate crimes in Louis Malle’s Goodbye, Children , which is set during the Second World War in a school run by Carmelite priests. The priests shelter three Jewish boys from the Nazis by passing them off as Christians. However, Jean, one of the three boys, can’t hide from the curiosity of his rival and later friend Julien. There isn’t a trace of sentimentality in Malle’s film, which is based on his childhood experiences. He beautifully captures the tentative friendship between the boys but never lets us forget how brutish and cruel school boys can be. The title refers to a dialogue spoken by the school’s principal as his act of kindness is discovered and he is arrested by the Nazis. School is out, he seems to be telling his students, and it’s time to enter the nastier world of adults.
(This weekly series, which appears every Friday, looks at how the cinema of the past helps us make sense of the present.)