Lessons Bollywood can learn from South Indian movies

Student of the Year 2 flounders badly. It could have taken invaluable tips from south Indian campus films like Premam, Kirik Party and Arjun Reddy

'Student of the Year 2’ stars Tara Sutaria, Tiger Shroff and Ananya Pandey

Commercial cinema thrives more on treatment than ideas. The audiences are brutal, writing off films the moment a déjà vu feeling sets in. This harsh reality is what makes the vibrancy of the south Indian film industry remarkable. We have seen brave directors presenting commonplace stories in a fresh and interesting manner. Campus films are a case in point.

In Premam (Malayalam) and Kirik Party (Kannada), you see the directors’ brilliance in the way they transform college romance into an engaging experience. Rishab Shetty tried his hand at a musical and pulled it off with Kirik Party. Alphonse Puthren elevated the coming-of-age story of Premam with irresistible humour.

Sekhar Kammula’s Happy Days and Sandeep Vanga’s Arjun Reddy, both Telugu films, stand out for their tone. Kammula’s breezy film has love, laughter, heartbreak and self-realisation fitted perfectly into the story. Arjun Reddy is a bold film with flawed characters the audiences are still able to relate to.

In this context, the shoddily-made Student Of The Year 2 (SOTY2) is a speed-breaker to Indian cinema’s march towards making campus films without cliches. Instead of getting inspired by the scene down South, Punit Malhotra takes two steps backwards in his third film.

Karan Johar’s Dharma Production, which has backed SOTY2, often faces flak for prioritising gloss over content. SOTY2 further strengthens this perception. Films often provide a window to escape from reality. Grandeur is enjoyable if it is blended well with sense, something that SOTY2 lacks.

The film opens with the hero (Tiger Shroff) dreaming of being one of the best in kabaddi. In the dream, Shroff, with ridiculous power, escapes from the clutches of his opponents and flies high in the air to earn a point. Even if it’s humour, there is a limit to how much you can defy logic. The scene is a pointer towards what you are in for.

Right from the start, Shroff plays a macho man who embodies the adage of ‘nothing is impossible’. But it is hard to take his character seriously. He runs races with ease, dances effortlessly and even wins kabaddi matches single-handedly. There is no struggle to make the character more human.  

SOTY2 is marred by lazy writing. The final dash of the film sees Shroff’s college vying for Dignity Cup, the ultimate prize in an inter-university competition. One wishes Malhotra had taken inspiration from Abrid Shine’s Poomaram. The Malayalam film is one of India’s best campus films in recent times.

The triumph of writing in Poomaram is in how the overall trophy is given significance.

In a moving scene, participants from a women’s college, the defending champions, lift the rolling trophy with care and offer a silent prayer before handing it over to the organisers. This is a small scene but reaches straight to the heart. On the other hand, SOTY2 just gives a catchy name to its trophy (Dignity Cup) and does nothing else.

Championships are won by team effort, a fact easily forgotten by SOTY2 but shown brilliantly by Poomaram and Premam. A beautiful stretch in Premam shows the hero’s (played by Nivin Pauly) group toil hard to learn dance only to convincingly execute it on stage. These are scenes that induce whistles and give you a nostalgic rush. Not like Shroff’s one-man show in SOTY2 which is a big bore.  

The romance in SOTY2 lacks the passion seen in Arjun Reddy. The heartbreak isn’t as deep as in Kirik Party. In dealing with a love triangle, SOTY2 only resorts to flat dialogues and songs in exotic locales. As the supporting actors remain caricatures, it is tough not to think of Happy Days. Kammula nicely scripted a union of people with great differences in personality forging friendships.

For campus films, Bollywood can take inspiration from its successful past. Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Rang De Basanti and 3 Idiots worked because they understood the pulse of the audience. The shockingly silly handling of the subject makes one wonder who films like SOTY2 target.

Interestingly, the three leads--Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt and Siddharth Malhotra--have grown into mature actors since they made their debut in the film’s first instalment. Sadly, there is no repeat in SOTY2.

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