In Student of the Year 2, everyone is vying for something called the Dignity Cup. Laugh all you want, but this is a Karan Johar production, and it makes sense that people are fighting to come out of it with dignity. “I haven't changed, I’m evolving," Mia (Tara Sutaria) tells her childhood friend and soon-to-be-ex, Rohan (Tiger Shroff). I don’t think one can say the same about Dharma Productions, which, with two clunkers (Kesari, Kalank) already under its belt this year, provides the answer to the question no one was asking: what if Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar was a Johar film?
It’s a Punit Malhotra film, but it’s really all Johar – his preoccupations, his visions of excess, his fondness for triangular and quadrangular love stories. Like Student of the Year (2012), which he directed, this too is about male high school students in Dehradun trying to best each other at various sports and the female students who cheer them on and fall for them. Rohan transfers from Pishorilal Chamandas to the elite St Teresa, only to find that his girlfriend, Mia (formerly Mridula), now has eyes only for the school champion, Manav (Aditya Seal). He’s soon butting heads with the golden boy, and with Manav’s sister, Shreya (Ananya Panday), aspiring dancer and professional meanie.
Though it isn’t fit to wear its white shorts, Student of the Year 2 is a glossy facsimile of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, with the Pishori boys as Model College and the privileged Teresa students as Rajput. Much as the garish displays of wealth in Dharma films can be irritating, it’s nothing compared to the excruciating experience of seeing them awkwardly stick up for the common man. Who can forget Malhotra’s Gori Tere Pyaar Mein, in which city dude Imran Khan saves a village and is rewarded by a little boy telling him “I be like you, bro"? Rohan must see the emptiness of Teresa and its students for himself and return to his roots, but not before saving Shreya from a life of extreme privilege and parental disapproval (my favourite scene in the film is when Shreya, after getting slapped by her father, decides to do an interpretative dance).
In Student of the Year, Rishi Kapoor, as dean of St Teresa’s, is shown lusting after Ronit Roy’s coach. There’s a call back of sorts here, when the newly arrived Rohan is told by Shreya that the coach (played by Gul Panag) likes “strong, fair boys". As Rohan tries to charm his way into the team by stretching seductively in front of her, I wondered if any film would have played this for laughs with the genders reversed. It gets worse. A woman with short hair and spectacles arrives. She hands Panag a cup of coffee and starts massaging her shoulders. She tells Rohan, “This is ma’am, and I’m her ma’am."
Because Shroff is in the lead, there are a couple of fights, some kabaddi and a whole lot of unnecessary running. A jumping-dancing-fighting hero, words seem to emerge from him with difficulty; he's more comfortable staring down Manav than verbalising his feelings to Mia and Shreya. He’s a little old to be playing a college student, though a bigger problem is Johar’s apparent belief that he still has the pulse of young viewers. The hall I was in was only a third full, and there were only dry eyes in the house when Shreya, her family having forgetting her birthday, buys a cake, lights a candle and sings to herself. No trophies for the writer, but give Panday a small dignity cup.