Expectations are a funny thing. And the expectations attached to a film like Student Of The Year 2 couldn’t be lower. On face value SOTY2 represents the worst of many things coming together. The worst of the Dharma stable – soulless gloss and packaging, helmed by its most unimpressive director in Punit Malhotra (I Hate Luv Storys, Gore Tere Pyaar Mein) and led by the most hollow mainstream star in Tiger Shroff.
It’s a film that by all accounts you’re supposed to write off from the get-go. And yet, I found it strangely watchable. I didn’t convulse and cringe at every second moment like you’re ‘meant’ to, as the meme-makers of social media would demand. A strong case could be made that that’s a result of expectation. If a film is even minutely above nothing, it becomes ..something. But I’d argue it’s also because the film isn’t utterly devoid of merit.
SOTY2 is by no means wholesome, satisfying storytelling, but nor is it looking to be. Movies must be seen in context and assessed by what they’re setting out to achieve and I’d argue Malhotra’s film delivers as promised and does what it says on the tin. A pulpy, surface-level, exaggerated high school romp that’s part love story, part sports movie. Granted it’s all packaging over substance but there’s fun to be had with that packaging. Despite the impressively forgettable soundtrack, I found myself buying into Malhotra’s world and its deranged rules and cringed far less than I was prepared to.
Sure, I could tell you that in this world Tiger Shroff passes off as a college student. That the women are merely a device to give the men something to squabble over and further their plot. That this is all cosmetic porn – glam, fashion and abs by the truckload. That no college on this side of the solar system functions like this. That positions like ‘College Ka Hero’ and ‘Student Of The Year’ are actual roles which carry importance and weight. But again, that’s entirely a given.
Malhotra’s film is propelled by its breezy, kinetic, particularly in the first half. Scenes barely last more than a minute. There’s enough shiny, and dance showdowns and bursting colour and funky clothes to keep things moving. It’s an attack on the senses sure, but one that strangely works in favour of the film. The screen is busy enough to keep things afloat and sufficiently distract you from the wafer-thin narrative and half-hearted writing. While the second half has far less impact and feels a lot more repetitive, it’s salvaged by a weirdly effective final kabaddi showdown.
The entire plot is designed to ensure our man Shroff always has something to do or backflip over or else God forbid he’d be required to actually emote and express – by no means his strong suit. Two scenes which stuck with me are those where you see a chink in the Tiger Shroff hide armour. Early on, he enters a new college to see someone dancing on stage and decides to show them how it’s done and demands the attention of the room. In another, while he’s trying to get the attention of a girl, he flexes incessantly and flaunts the goods to get her attention. Both felt like instances of the real Tiger shining through, and ensuring the attention always remains fixed on him.
And then there are the two heroines being ‘launched’ by the film. The expectation going in was they would be mere props next to Shroff and be given next to no importance but again, SOTY2 surprises in being one small step above that. As the shallow, materialistic adulterer who isn’t given much to do, Tara Sutaria doesn’t leave a lasting impression. But it is Ananya Pandey as Shreya (easily the film’s most fleshed out character) who is the far more interesting of the two. As the rebel with an attitude, Pandey has a capturing screen presence, and it helps that she’s given the film’s best lines and many of it’s best moments. I’d go as far as to say she’s more memorable than Alia Bhatt was in her debut in the first Student Of The Year and is certainly one actor to look out for.
What’s curious about SOTY2 is you can feel the clear effort being made to keep with the times and be ‘woke’. Here the college’s ‘tough sports coach’ is a lesbian played by Gul Panag. While the first film was far more internationalised, here we move to ‘small town’ Dehradun. In that film, the competition to determine Student Of The Year was a lavish three-part showdown of brains, dance and sports (A Dharma Triwizard tournament?). Here the final competition is a kabbadi tournament.
In the end, SOTY2 in many ways feels like Punit Malhotra’s most self-assured film, not that that’s saying much. It’s not unwatchable and achieves what it sets out to. I’d go as far as to say it’s a triumph by its own barometer. Context is everything.