When one was in school, the day progressed from one class to another. I think most schools are still run the same way. Not in Karan Johar’s universe though. Here, life is a party. In the film set in a boarding school, you get to hear the word ‘academics’ only after the intermission.

There is only one classroom sequence and even there the protagonists are seen exploring the Hindi translation of the female anatomy. Of course, there are plenty of lessons in designer wear and aspirational gadgets, but the crux — a love triangle between friends — is as old as Andaz or as new as Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Yes, the good old formula of camaraderie between boys coming from different social strata getting strained when they fall for the same girl…when the girl hugs the wavering boyfriend’s best friend to make him feel jealous, but ends up discovering herself. These boys and girls don’t seem to watch Hindi films! The narrative style reminds one of Jaane Tu Yaa Jaane Na and the obstacles bring back memories of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar.

However, if you are game to accept St. Teresa as a new version of St. Xavier’s that Karan created 14 years ago, it is not a bad ride. In fact, Karan deserves credit for underlining the flaws in his escapist cinema and being able to control the mush. He not only makes fun of his staple ingredients, but also goes to the extent of questioning the fidelity of the genre in the spirited second half.

The film works because of three factors. Karan has not cast stars but has gone in for newcomers who gel with the milieu. Alia Bhatt stands out for her spunky appeal and infectious charm. A rare combination of simplicity and snobbery, she could well be the girl to watch out for. Siddharth Malhotra and Varun Dhawan are cast for their hunk quotient and they have just about enough freshness to carry a film with the help of some indulgent camera angles.

Second, Rensil D’ Silva’s fast-paced screenplay hints at the specks of darkness beneath the gloss that Karan and his team effortlessly conjure up. Be it linking the ‘class’ hierarchy among the classmates with parental pressures or presenting the middle class boy more confident of his goals than his affluent friend or giving the sidekicks a backbone, there is an attempt to look beyond the mush without straying too much from the romcom trappings. Ram Kapoor plays a role once mastered by Pran, wherein as a magnate he sees his guitar-playing boy as a wastrel. Ram plays it with such conviction that you have to see it to believe it. The only actor who hits the wrong notes is Rishi Kapoor. As the overtly loud gay dean, Karan has not shaped his character well enough so that he could deliver the punch in the final act.

Niranjan Iyengar’s dialogues not only capture the irreverent mood of the youth, but also convey the superficial nature of the society the film talks about. When Abhimanyu (Siddharth) says he likes the way Shanaya (Alia) drops the name of a designer in the midst of a conversation or the way she admits she doesn’t have an outfit that suits the ambience of the hospital, we get to know the bubble these youngsters live in. So when the film makes a transition from love to ishq, from frivolous to something lasting, the shift is perceptible.

And most importantly, when you think that Karan, as always, is getting carried away with his outdoor games and escapist fare, he springs a surprise. When the overweight contender (Kayoze Irani, Boman Irani’s son, makes an assured debut) to the trophy opens up at the annual function and challenges the very process of selecting the student of the year, he conveys the concerns of many of us in the audience. When he calls the filmi treasure hunt, dance routines and making girls compete against boys in cycling and athletics a charade created by the self-seeking lonely dean, who failed to find a partner, he is lamenting why he can’t be the hero of this exercise. This sudden twist in the tale gives the film the intellectual touch it sorely needed and Karan’s frothy cinema some substance.

Add to it Vishal Shekhar’s compositions that compel you to take the dance floor and we have a spiced up generic potpourri that provides a ‘Jo tera hai woh mera hai’ generation its fill.

Student of the Year

Genre: Romantic dramedy

Director: Karan Johar

Cast: Varun Dhawan, Siddharth Malhotra, Alia Bhatt, Rishi Kapoor, Ram Kapoor, Kayoze Irani

Storyline: What happens when two friends start liking the same person…

Bottomline: Not bad, if it comes once in 14 years!