Tag Archives: Karan Johar

Streaming Video News: June 15, 2018

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the worldwide debut of Lust Stories, a followup to 2013’s anthology film Bombay Talkies (also available on Netflix), featuring new short movies from the same four directors: Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar, and Anurag Kashyap.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with the addition of the April theatrical release Blackmail, starring Irrfan Khan. Other recent additions include the Tamil films Rombha Nallavan Da Nee, Saivam, Vetri Selvan, and Yaamirukka Bayamey.

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Movie Review: Welcome to New York (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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Note: This is a review of the 2D version of the movie.

Welcome to New York has plenty of laughs for the hardest of hardcore Bollywood fans, packaged in an enjoyable fish-out-of-water comedy.

When I say “hardcore,” I mean it. It’s not enough to be familiar with the biggest Bollywood hits of recent years. Welcome to New York requires an appetite for industry gossip, knowledge of awards shows, and a fondness for Karan Johar–particularly his talk show, Koffee with Karan.

The extremely meta setting for Welcome to New York is the 18th International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards, which were held in New York City last year. As in real life, Johar plays the host of the awards show. His actual co-host, Saif Ali Khan, is replaced in the film by Riteish Deshmukh, playing a self-deprecating version of himself who bemoans his underpaid, B-list status.

In order to boost viewership in India, awards show organizers Gary (Boman Irani) and Sophia (Lara Dutta) create a talent contest, giving two winners the chance to perform onstage during the show. Sophia uses the contest to sabotage the show and get back at Gary, choosing the two worst entries among all the submissions as the winners.

Those winners are Teji (Diljit Dosanjh), a small-town repo man and wannabe actor, and Jeenal (Sonakshi Sinha), a feisty fashion designer. Whisked away to New York, the two must overcome their differences to navigate their flashy new surroundings and make their dreams come true.

Meanwhile, an angry Karan Johar doppelgänger named Arjun (also played by Johar) plans to kidnap his lookalike before the awards show. Teji accidentally foils one kidnapping attempt, thinking he’s playing a version of the Rapid Fire Round from Koffee with Karan.

The plotlines aren’t well-integrated, but it hardly matters, given how silly the movie is. Teji’s and Jeenal’s budding friendship is sweet to watch, and Dosanjh and Sinha are both effortlessly likeable. Dosanjh’s Teji gets most of the fish-out-of-water jokes, such as when he calls Jeenal’s terrycloth robe a “coat that looks like a towel.” Their characters have some amusing interactions with Aditya Roy Kapur and Sushant Singh Rajput that play off of people’s mistaken tendency to conflate actors with their roles.

When it comes to playing a role, no one in Welcome to New York does so more enthusiastically than Karan Johar, who plays the most outrageous version of himself imaginable. He’s vain, snarky, and snobbish, and he’s hilarious. He gets to spout lines like, “You are a traitor, Riteish Deshkmukh.” The payoff to subplot in which Karan advises Rana Daggubati on his career after Baahubali is worth the price of admission alone. Lara Dutta and Boman Irani being as great as always is a nice bonus.

The most disappointing element of Welcome to New York is its music. Songs range from forgettable to annoying, and there’s precious little dancing to speak of.

Casual fans may find Welcome to New York too “inside baseball,” but Bollywood junkies will see their obsession pay off in a multitude of self-referential gags. The actors seem like they had fun making the movie, and that quality translates to an enjoyable experience for the audience.

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Movie Review: Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017)

1 Star (out of 4)

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The romantic-comedy Badrinath Ki Dulhania (“Badrinath’s Bride“) fails as both a romance and a comedy. A somewhat amusing first half is undone by a disturbing second half that is no fun to watch.

One of the qualities that made the main characters in writer-director Shashank Khaitan’s previous film, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (which starred the same lead actors in different roles) so likeable was that they both had strong moral values guiding their actions. That element is missing from Badrinath Ki Dulhania, resulting in a male lead character who is outdated at best.

Badrinath (Varun Dhawan) is the good-for-nothing youngest son of a money-lender, Mr. Bhansal (Rituraj Singh), in the town of Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh. The elder Bhansal already managed to guilt-trip Badrinath’s brother, Alok (Yash Sinha), into giving up the woman he loved in favor of an arranged marriage. Bhansal’s penchant for clutching his chest and reaching for an oxygen tank he doesn’t need prompts Badrinath to explain: “An Indian father has the weakest heart in all the world.”

This would be amusing were Bhansal not a sinister enforcer of repressive gender politics. Mrs. Bhansal never speaks, period. Alok’s wife, Urmila (Shweta Prasad), is a financial expert with an advanced education, but Bhansal will not allow his daughter-in-law to work. It’s as though he takes pride in forcing such an accomplished woman into a life of domestic servitude. Alok is too much of a coward to stand up to his father, despite his wife’s suffering.

Badrinath is just as cowardly as Alok, but also more entitled. Badrinath is so assured that he can have whatever he wants — taking it by force, if necessary — that he pursues a woman who is his intellectual superior and not the least bit interested in him: Vaidehi (Alia Bhatt).

After repeatedly rebuffing Badrinath’s stalkery come-ons, Vaidehi consents to let him and his friend, Somdev (Sahil Vaid), find a groom for her elder sister, Kritika. Though Vaidehi explains that this act of kindness will not lead to a romance between her and Badrinath, he’s sure it will.

The relationship between Badrinath and Vaidehi is cute enough until she wounds his pride, prompting a chilling post-interval turn in Badrinath. He shows some violent tendencies earlier in the film in his role as his father’s bill collector, but the sense of entitlement that drives his actions in the second half adds an element of menace.

It’s almost as if Khaitan believes that Dhawan’s good looks make his character’s actions less dangerous. A boy that cute wouldn’t really hurt her, right? Dhawan already showed that he can play scary in Badlapur, and there are echoes of that performance in this film.

Another knock against Badrinath is his cowardice. This fear on the part of everyone in the family to stand up to Mr. Bhansal — even when they know he is morally wrong — taints all of the them, but Badrinath most of all as the main character. He simply has too far to grow within the constraints of the story.

Karan Johar’s role as producer of the film is a problem because his name evokes memories of his own movie about a son challenging his overbearing father: Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham…. The hero of that film seems vastly more progressive than Badrinath, despite the fact that K3G came out sixteen years ago.

Throughout Badrinath Ki Dulhania, there’s a feeling that Vaidehi deserves better. She and Badrinath may look nice together on the dance floor, but he can’t offer her anything she can’t achieve for herself on her own terms. All the credit goes to Bhatt, whose natural charisma outshines her co-stars.

With such an imbalance among the characters, we’re left with just another movie about a overachieving woman who must choose whether to sacrifice her goals for the sake of a man who wants a trophy for learning how to use a microwave.

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Movie Review: Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016)

aedilhaimushkil2 Stars (out of 4)

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WARNING: THIS REVIEW HAS MAJOR THIRD-ACT SPOILERS. It’s tough to talk in-depth about my feelings for this film without also revealing how the plot resolves itself. If you’re spoiler-averse, bail out after the first few paragraphs. (There’s another warning below, just before the big spoilers begin.)

Approximately two hours into Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (“This Heart is Complicated“), during the performance of the emotionally charged title track, one feels the first pangs of concern. How is writer-director Karan Johar going to craft a satisfying ending to his tale of unrequited love, which to this point has been compelling and unexpected? As the song ends, Johar’s film uses narrative crutches to limp along to an ending made all the more disappointing because of the story’s squandered potential.

What Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (“ADHM,” henceforth) has going for it, at least early on, is a cast of interesting characters. Ayan (Ranbir Kapoor) lives in London, dutifully pursuing an MBA at his dad’s request at the expense of a singing career. Ayan is absurdly wealthy, as is every other character in the film, allowing for impromptu jaunts to scenic European locales.

Ayan meets Alizeh (Anushka Sharma) at a party, and they find in each other kindred spirits fond of quoting film dialogue. A knowledge of older Bollywood movies will enhance the experience of watching ADHM, but it is not necessary. Terrific subtitle translation substitutes Western equivalents for specifically Indian references. For example, Bollywood bombshell “Sunny Leone” becomes “JLo” for the sake of international audience members. (Unfortunately, song lyrics are not subtitled in English.)

Although both are already in relationships — Alizeh with boring Faisal (Imran Abbas) and Ayan with tacky Lisa (Lisa Haydon, who is utterly hilarious in the film) — Ayan and Alizeh prefer each other’s company. Ayan begins to fall for beautiful Alizeh, but she makes it clear that she’s not interested. She’s still heartbroken over another man, Ali (Fawad Khan), and only wants Ayan’s friendship.

Ayan spends the rest of the film struggling with his unrequited feelings, distracting himself by having an affair with Saba (an incredibly sexy Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). Adding Saba’s lovelorn poetry to his heartbroken music jump-starts Ayan’s singing career, propelling him out of his extended adolescence and into self-possessed adulthood.

This is where those nagging feelings begin. Ayan somehow needs to resolve his feelings for Alizeh. It would be too convenient to have Alizeh change her mind and fall for Ayan, especially since she maintains throughout that she’s not attracted to him. Finding a way to put Ayan’s feelings in narrative context presents a considerable challenge.

LAST WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE MOVIE’S FINAL ACT ARE BELOW.

Unfortunately, Johar chooses the second easiest possible option: he gives Alizeh cancer. Removing Alizeh from the mortal world absolves Ayan from having to learn how to live in a world where they’re both alive yet apart. It also provides yet another frustrating example of a male writer using the death of a female character to advance the development of his male protagonist.

There are further sexist overtones to the way Ayan treats Alizeh while she is sick. He repeatedly exerts physical control over her body at the exact moment when she’s lost control of her body to cancer. Without Alizeh’s consent, Ayan removes her hat in public to reveal her hairless head. He makes her dance when she doesn’t want to. Ayan tries to kiss Alizeh, and he screams at her for rejecting his advances. He’s enraged that she won’t have sex with him, even though she doesn’t have long to live and he’s taking care of her.

That raises another point about the stupidity of the cancer subplot. Alizeh refuses to tell Ali or her family about her diagnosis, choosing to endure it alone. That’s not how cancer works. It’s an exhausting, all-hands-on-deck endurance test. Certain doctors require you to bring a guardian to help you get home from your appointment safely; they won’t let you take a cab. No one faces cancer alone willingly.

So much of ADHM is about Ayan growing out of his immaturity into the complicated realities of adult relationships, but there’s no wisdom to be found here. In the end, Johar chose the path of least resistance. He has more insight to offer than this. I’m sure of it.

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Movie Review: Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… (2001)

KabhiKhushiKabhiGham3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… (“Sometimes Happiness, Sometimes Sadness“) may not be the best movie ever, but it certainly is the most movie ever. Those able to embrace the film’s excesses are rewarded with non-stop entertainment.

From the outset, K3G (the film’s popular nickname) establishes familial love as its theme. The movie opens with a wealthy man, Yash Raichand (Amitabh Bachchan), talking about the particular affection a father feels for his child. Yash’s wife, Nandini (Jaya Bachchan), stresses the unconditional nature of motherly love. They smile as they talk about their pride and joy: their son, Rahul (Shahrukh Khan). Cut to a portrait of the happy family.

Wait, who’s that other kid in the picture? The one they didn’t bother to mention? It’s their younger son, Rohan, who is a complete afterthought in his parents’ eyes.

Yash and Nandini adopted Rahul as a baby, after having trouble conceiving. When Nandini unexpectedly became pregnant with Rohan nine years later, they continued to focus all of their parental affection on Rahul, leaving young Rohan to make due with hugs from the Raichand family maid, Daijan (Farida Jalal).

Yet when Rahul is disowned for falling for a working-class gal named Anjali (Kajol), it falls on poor Rohan to try to reunite his family. He does so willingly, despite being the acknowledged second-favorite of his parents’ two kids.

Fortunately, the years spent carrying that chip on his shoulder have molded adult Rohan into an Adonis, played by Hrithik Roshan. He takes his prep school education and sleeveless shirts and heads to England to find his estranged brother.

Rohan’s quest is aided by his former childhood nemesis: Anjali’s younger sister, Pooja (Kareena Kapoor). The minute grown up Pooja is introduced, everyone else in K3G ceases to matter, because Kapoor’s fabulousness outshines them all.

Adult Pooja is the queen bee of her college, sneering at the girls and smugly brushing off the boys she deems too lowly for her to date. She’s so damned popular that she can go by the nickname “Poo” without people laughing in her face. Her wardrobe is made up exclusively of hotpants, fur shrugs, and tops that are basically a cocktail napkin held in place by a shoelace.

It cannot be overstated how amazing Poo is. Everything she does is over the top. No character has every been as bratty yet lovable. Kapoor commits to Poo’s outrageousness, and the results are hilarious.

London is where the character relationships in K3G are at their best. Shahrukh and Kajol are even more charming as a married couple then they are in the early stages of Rahul and Anjali’s relationship. Rahul and Poo banter sweetly as he acts as her protective older brother. Poo’s romantic advances toward Rohan are as funny as his rebuffs.

There are a couple of negative aspects to K3G. First is the incessant fat-shaming of young Rohan (Kavish Majmudar). Young Rahul (played by Shahrukh Khan’s son, Aryan) calls his little brother “fat” in every conversation he has with Rohan as a boy. Other members of the household join in, too, as do young Pooja and her pint-sized cronies. When adult Rahul realizes that the hunky guy who’s been living with him under false pretenses is his long-lost brother, the first thing he asks Rohan is how he lost so much weight.

Then there’s the creepy relationship between patriarch Yash and Naina (Rani Mukerji), the woman he’s chosen for Rahul to marry. Naina is all kinds of fabulous, in her sparkly backless dresses and midriff-baring tops. Yash is way too touchy-feely with Naina, and she only makes it worse by singing a sultry, Marilyn Monroe-style rendition of “Happy Birthday” to her would-be father-in-law.

Yet all can be forgiven thanks to the movie’s endearing absurdity, including a song that features Shahrukh dancing in front of the pyramids while sporting see-though shirts, and then pawing at Kajol while wearing various all-leather outfits. When characters aren’t celebrating, they are crying. There is so much celebrating, so much crying, and you just have to roll with the whole experience. Keep that mindset throughout Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… and you are guaranteed a great time.

Links

  • Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… at Wikipedia
  • Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… at IMDb

Movie Review: Bombay Velvet (2015)

BombayVelvet2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Bombay Velvet is a great-looking film held together by an unstable linchpin: its charismatic but problematic lead character, Johnny Balraj. Ranbir Kapoor is mesmerizing in the role, but Johnny can’t shoulder the story’s weight.

Johnny and his best friend, Chimman (Satyadeep Misra), grew up picking pockets on the streets of Bombay (now Mumbai) during the years after partition. As young men, Johnny puts his penchant for fighting to use, earning extra cash as a brawler. Imported Hollywood gangster movies show him a more glamorous, exciting life than the one he has. Johnny tells his friend, “I’m going to be a big shot, Chimman.”

The guys start out working as the muscle for a mobster named Khambatta (Karan Johar), who puts Johnny in charge of Bombay Velvet, a nightclub that provides cover for Khambatta’s illicit deals. Johnny falls for the club’s star jazz singer, Rosie (Anushka Sharma), a woman who’s been used by men all her life.

Khambatta’s illegal operations are set within Bombay’s evolution into a powerful global business center, but there isn’t enough historical context provided for international audiences to really get a handle on what’s going on. There are subplots about communists versus capitalists and union protests that aren’t fully explored.

I didn’t realize for about an hour that Khambatta ran a newspaper in addition to being a gangster, and that his chief rival, Jimmy Mistry (Manish Chaudhary) — who plants Rosie in the club as his mole — is another newspaper man. Did newspaper owners really have such powerful connections back in the day in Bombay? Is the story even realistic? It’s hard to tell from the context provided.

The nightclub itself is gorgeous, the kind of fancy supper club that now only exists in movies. The music is catchy and evocative. The gowns that Rosie performs in are works of art. Overall, this is a really beautiful film, never more so than during violent shootouts.

Sharma is great as a woman who is damaged but not broken. Kapoor is a coiled spring, his lithe frame suiting a character who has survived thanks to his scrappiness.

As exciting a character as Johnny is, he doesn’t quite work as a believable lead in this kind of film. He’s too impulsive to entrust with the power he’s given as the face of Bombay Velvet, a face sporting perpetual bruises at odds with the fancy clothes Johnny wears.

Much is made of the fact that Johnny isn’t book smart — the subtitled translation of Johnny’s slang into appropriate English colloquialisms is outstanding — but he’s not street smart either. He doesn’t understand the game the big shots are playing, so it’s impossible for him to work the situation to his advantage. When the elites don’t capitulate to his bullying, one wants to ask him, “Did you really think that would work?”

In other gangster movies, Johnny would be the dimwitted sidekick whose short temper gets him killed. It’s as if Joe Pesci’s Tommy in Goodfellas switched roles with Ray Liotta’s Henry.

The audience’s avatar in Bombay Velvet is Chimman, who looks at his friend with a combination of devotion, concern, and pity. (Misra’s restrained performance steals the show.) He knows how good they have it compared to their old life, and he knows where they are in the pecking order.

One suspects that, if Chimman were the alpha in the friendship, maybe he and Johnny could eventually become big shots. But he’s not, and they are both doomed by Johnny’s groundless ambition.

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Bollywood Box Office: April 4-6

Few young actors’ careers have been watched as closely as those of the breakout stars of 2012’s Student of the Year: Alia Bhatt, Sidharth Malhotra, and Varun Dhawan. The sophomore efforts of all three released theatrically in the last two months, the most recent being Dhawan’s Main Tera Hero on April 4, 2014. Here’s how their North American box office returns compare to one another, as well as to the film that launched three careers.

Student of the Year — directed by Karan Johar — released in 106 theaters in the U.S. and Canada on October 19, 2012. It earned $326,508 in its first weekend ($3,080 average), going on to earn a total of $670,086.

Malhotra was the first of the three stars to release his follow-up effort. Hasee Toh Phasee opened on February 7, 2014, earning $334,397 from eighty-six theaters ($3,895 average) in its first weekend. That this was the best opening weekend of the three new films — better even than the first weekend of SOTY — shouldn’t be a surprise. A romantic comedy co-produced by Johar, co-starring Parineeti Chopra, and released a week before Valentine’s Day is a safe bet.

Bhatt’s film, Highway — which opened two weeks later — was a more ambitious venture, despite having an A-List director like Imtiaz Ali at the helm. Bhatt shouldered most of the load for the movie — a largely improvised road flick about a kidnapped woman — and her efforts paid off. Highway earned $325,522 from ninety-three theaters ($3,500 average) in its opening weekend.

Dhawan’s Main Tera Hero didn’t fare as well in its opening weekend as his former co-stars’ films. It earned $161,846 from seventy theaters. Its $2,312 average is significantly less than those of the other two films released this year and SOTY.

In his defense, Dhawan’s film presented the biggest challenge. Action-comedies aren’t guaranteed hits in North America, and his co-stars — Ileana D’Cruz and Nargis Fakhri — have good looks but not much name recognition here. Matching the final tallies of either Hasee Toh Phasee ($642,632) or Highway ($529,449) seems unlikely.

The best-performing Hindi film in U.S. and Canadian theaters during the weekend of April 4-6, 2014, was The Lunchbox. Now showing in 100 theaters, it earned $307,076, bringing its total earnings to $1,266,478.

For one week, Queen reigns as 2014’s overall highest-earning Hindi film in North America (it will lose this crown to The Lunchbox next weekend). In its fifth week in theaters, it earned $92,933 from forty-nine screens ($1,897 average), bringing its total to $1,327,223.

Lingering in one last American theater, Bewakoofiyaan earned $20. Its total stands at $106,800.

Note: All earnings figures except those of Student of the Year are courtesy of Bollywood Hungama.

Movie Review: Bombay Talkies (2013)

Bombay_Talkies3 Stars (out of 4)

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Bombay Talkies is a collection of short films by four young directors, created to honor one hundred years of cinema in India. The results are mixed, but the two best shorts make the whole film worth watching.

Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh by Karan Johar

Johar’s short — a story of a gay tabloid intern (played by Saqib Saleem) who upends the life of his married boss (Rani Mukerji) — is the least successful of the four films. It doesn’t feel like a complete story, but rather a subplot of a full-length feature. The events depicted in the short would’ve made a nice catalyst for the further development of Mukerji’s character or an interesting interlude in a longer movie about Saleem’s character, struggling to find his way both as a young adult and as a gay man who’s been cast out from his family. The short film as it stands doesn’t work.

Star by Dibakar Banerjee

Banerjee’s effort is much more polished and showcases the incredible talent of Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Siddiqui plays Puradev, a failed actor who hops from job to job while waiting for his big break. Banerjee’s narrative includes some charming whimsical elements, such as Puradev’s pet emu and the disappointed ghost of his acting mentor. Siddiqui shines in a great scene in which Puradev pantomimes the events of his day for his daughter’s amusement.

Sheila Ki Jawaani by Zoya Akhtar

Akhtar’s short is the best of the bunch. Her story concerns a little boy named Vicky (Naman Jain) who wants to be a dancer, much to the chagrin of his macho father (played by Ranvir Shorey). Vicky’s idol, actress Katrina Kaif, appears to him in a vision, encouraging him to follow his dreams covertly. He gets further support from his understanding older sister, Kavya (Khushi Dubey).

Like Banerjee’s short, Akhtar’s movie includes some fantastical elements, celebrating the way in which movies allow us to envision a more magical version of reality. Hindi movies rarely feature child protagonists, so it’s refreshing to see a story that focuses on the concerns of children. Jain and Dubey are terrific.

Kaif’s advice to Vicky — be true to your dreams, but don’t broadcast them — seems like a bit of a bummer until her audience is taken into consideration. Vicky — like all children — has so little control over his present circumstances that there’s wisdom in trying to make his day-to-day life easier until he’s an adult and can do what he wants. It’s also a warning to parents to remember that children need respect as individuals as much as they need guidance and protection.

Murabba by Anurag Kashyap

After Akhtar’s delightful short, Kashyap’s film is a downer. His story follows a rural guy named Vijay (Vineet Kumar Singh) on his quest to meet Amitabh Bachchan and get him to take a bite of a piece of preserved fruit. Vijay’s father believes he’ll be cured of his ailments if he eats the rest of the fruit blessed by Bachchan’s bite, and he sends his son on a fool’s errand. Given the security retinues of modern stars, Vijay’s task is practically impossible to complete, and much suffering is inflicted upon the dutiful son in the process. It’s not fun to watch, and the payoff isn’t worth it.

“Apna Bombay Talkies”

The quartet of films is followed by a cheesy song-and-dance number featuring clips of old films and lip-syncing by current Bollywood stars. It’s almost as painfully self-congratulatory as the celebrity role-call song “Deewangi Deewangi” from Om Shanti Om, but it’s not as well choreographed. Check it out:

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Movie Review: Student of the Year (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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If John Hughes had made a Bollywood movie, it would be Student of the Year (SOTY henceforth). Writer-director Karan Johar incorporates some of the best elements of ’80s teen romantic comedies into a film that feels current but familiar.

The film begins with some direct-to-camera monologues — a la Ferris Bueller — that I wasn’t initially in love with. The technique allows Sudo (Kayoz Irani, son of Boman Irani, who steals the show in a brief cameo) to introduce present-day circumstances and explain how past events influenced them.

The “present-day” I’m referring to is actually ten years in the future. The film isn’t especially clear on when “now” is, though there is a flashback to 2011 within the main flashbacks, so “now” is 2022 and “then” is 2012. Hang on to those ripped jeans, fellas, because they’ll be stylish again in ten years.

Sudo sets the stage as he and several of his former classmates gather at the hospital to attend to the ailing former dean of their prep school (played by Rishi Kapoor). The dean left the school in disgrace, and Sudo and his classmates feel responsible.

As in many Hughes films, economic class has a huge influence on the lives of the teens at the heart of the story. St. Theresa’s High School in India populated by the wealthy offspring of business tycoons and academically gifted scholarship students.

Chief among the rich kids is Rohan Nanda (Varun Dhawan), the younger son of one of India’s richest men. Friendship with Rohan is seen as the surest path to future wealth. The most popular girl in school, Shanaya (Alia Bhatt), is rich herself, yet her parents push her to date Rohan, just to be safe.

Little do the other students know that Rohan is the black sheep of his family. His musical ambitions embarrass his father, who doesn’t hide his feelings from his son.

The tension within the Nanda family becomes more pronounced when Rohan befriends the new kid in school. Abhi (Siddharth Malhotra) is a scholarship student who is academically and athletically every bit Rohan’s match, and Rohan likes having a real peer among a sea of suck-ups.

Ambitious Abhi knows just what to say to impress Mr. Nanda, who seems to wish that Abhi was his son instead of Rohan. When Abhi suggests to Shanaya that the way to cure Rohan of his wandering eye is to make him jealous — using Abhi as the new object of her affection — it becomes clear that his ambition may be more important than his loyalty to his friend.

Rounding out the Breakfast-Club-like motley crew are nerdy Sudo, Shanaya’s tomboy best friend Shruti, slutty Tanya, and Rohan’s right-hand-man Jeet. While they are peripheral players to the main love triangle, they all compete in the titular “Student of the Year” competition that takes up the second half of the film.

The competition itself is inherently unfair, which the film acknowledges. Given that the final stage of a four-part competition is a triathlon, one might as well skip the preliminaries and hand the trophy to Abhi, who’s about a foot taller than everyone else. Nevertheless, the second half of the film contains some entertaining interpersonal drama and a great dance competition, which Kajol crashes for no apparent reason.

Though the film unapolagetically uses its youthful cast of unknowns as eye candy — the lingering pans of Malhotra’s manscaped torso are practically pornographic — the actors show some real promise. Malhotra is able to pull off emotional scenes as easily as he pulls off his shirt. Bhatt does a fine job as her character grows beyond her spoiled rich-girl beginnings.

Of the three leads, Dhawan seems the most capable of establishing a real career as an actor. He’s a tremendous dancer, which is a plus. His character is arguably the hardest to execute in that he needs to become more than just a snobby a-hole. Rohan is Steff from Pretty in Pink, but with a conscience. It’s easy to root for a poor, orphaned underdog like Abhi, but by the end of the film, I was on Team Rohan.

Teenage struggles with developing friendships, a sense of identity, and self-worth have been around forever, and Johar is beholden to use those plot triggers. In another nod to Hughes, Johar includes an array of catchy song-and-dance numbers in the film. Apart from some continuity issues and the questionable direct-to-camera monologues, Student of the Year is a really successful film.

Links

Opening October 19: Student of the Year and Delhi Safari

Looks like my fears of a prolonged Bollywood drought were unfounded. Two new Hindi films open in Chicago area theaters on October 19, 2012. Getting the wider release of the two is director Karan Johar’s Student of the Year.

SOTY opens in five area theaters on Friday: AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 30 min.

Also making its debut is the animated film Delhi Safari. Note that the version releasing this weekend is in Hindi, voiced by Indian actors like Akshaye Khanna and Boman Irani. Fandango‘s capsule description of the movie includes the information for the English-language version of the film releasing on December 7, featuring the voices of Jane Lynch and Cary Elwes.

Delhi Safari opens on Friday at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17. It has a runtime of 1 hr. 50 min. If you need added incentive to see the film, take a picture of your Delhi Safari ticket stub and you can win a $50 Toys R’ Us gift card.

The charming English Vinglish continues to perform well at the box office, having earned $1,405,758 in its first two weeks in U.S. theaters. It carries over for a third week at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17.

The South Barrington 30 also holds over OMG Oh My God for a fourth week and Barfi! for a sixth, with is total U.S. earnings standing at $2,779,172.

Other Indian movies playing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Cameraman Ganga Tho Rambabu (Telugu), Damarukam (Telugu), Maattrraan (Tamil), and Trivandrum Lodge (Malayalam).

The subtitled trailer for Vishal Bhardwaj’s Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola is out. The film — which stars Imran Khan and my girl crush, Anushka Sharma — releases theatrically on January 11.