With it's all-out extravagance, beautiful people and a love triangle at its heart, Student of the Year is pure, unashamed Bollywood excess from the house of Karan Johar.
The story is set on a Johar-styled school campus, where girls sporting Hermes handbags attend classes in cocktail dresses, and the boys pull up for lectures in their Ferraris. It's a fantasy world, where being rich and beautiful naturally affords you a higher status than everyone else, and the beautifully vacuous hide their insecurities behind their popularity and their designer shades. And while the nerds don't appear to have a lot going for them, they know what really matters in life beyond the material, namely loyalty and friendship.
Abhimanyu (Siddarth Malhotra) is the new boy at the exclusive St Theresa's school. Following an altercation with Rohan (Varun Dhawan), he manages to turn the tables on the resident rich kid, and rivalry turns quickly to respect. A bromance blossoms, and so does love. The focus of their affection is Radha (Alia Bhatt), the archetypal trophy girlfriend. Friendships are tested when Rohan and Abhimanyu vie for the title of 'Student of the Year', but the real prize at stake is Radha. Friends become 'frenemies' and a battle for glory, and the girl, is waged.
The quest for the title of 'Student of the Year' is a rather stretched premise upon which the story of love and betrayal is constructed. The thin storyline encompasses the usual conventions of a Karan Johar film: a glossy backdrop, a club sequence, a wedding song, perfect physiques, gay-gags and everyone dressed in top-to-toe couture. The pressure of overbearing parents and a dying granny present a hint of realism, but such maudlin sentiment seems contrived in Johar's unreal world.
The dialogue is sparkling with wit, however, and combined with the sheen of youth and a foot-thumping soundtrack, it adds to the feel-good factor that keeps you engaged.
The debutant actors are given the full Johar treatment. Silent, smouldering and necessarily ripped, Malhotra puts in a competent performance as the earnest do-gooder, but histrionics take second place next to his ability to look pretty, and there are gratuitous skins aplenty to demonstrate that Malhotra is a master at that.
Varun Dhawan pips him to the post in terms of performance, having the advantage of portraying the more interesting of the two characters, cocksure, snarling and pent up with angst as he is. Dhawan has an undeniable screen presence. His exuberance is palpable in the dance sequences and he bears the marks of a versatile actor with a performance that bodes well.
Touted as the Bollywood princess-in-waiting, Alia Bhatt is a rather more brattish incarnation of Kareena Kapoor's Poo from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. Sweet and fizzy, like pink pop, whether turning on the tears or pouting on demand, it's a credible performance and Alia has all the credentials to become a Bollywood star, but you wonder if 'spoilt, college-going love interest' is all she can do.
Rishi Kapoor impresses in a flamboyant and bold comic turn as the gay Dean, though rather unfairly, the mishaps of the day are laid squarely at his door.
There are hints of Mohabattein and Gossip Girl and a glaring allusion to the Rydell High dance-off in Grease, but the rest is pure Johar.
Graduates of the school of Johar, Dhawan, Malhotra and Bhatt have been afforded a foundation course in Bollywood under the tutelage of the grand master and while the film is a fun but shallow exploration of love and friendships, there are signs of a 'shining shining future, bright si' for each of them.
Student of the Year is a merry jaunt that allows us brief respite from the rigours of daily life to take a fun frolic in Johar's rainbow-hued, Prada world, where the beautiful people reign.
And just once in a while, there's nothing wrong with that.