When Student of the Year was released in 2012, it was a modest success and even got nominated for Film of the Year at the Stardust Awards. It also launched the careers of three talented actors – Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan and Sidharth Malhotra – with its simple plot of a love triangle between three high-school students who are all competing in their school's Student of the Year competition. Seven years later, SOTY director-writer Karan Johar and Fox Star Studios have presented us a sequel, which is enjoyable in parts, but the script and the climax make it an overall dud. This time around, the baton has been passed from Johar to writer Arshad Sayed and director Punit Malhotra.
The reference to the first movie is only for context, and a comparison should not form the basis of a review for the sequel. However, if you did see the first one, you would see that the names of key characters and the institution in which the film is set – St Teresa in Mussoorie – stay unchanged, the roles only mildly interchanged and the type of competitions to decide the best student changed from athletics and dance in 2012 to athletics, dance and the sport of kabaddi in 2019.
Instead of two boys chasing a girl, in SOTY2 the formula is shaken up by introducing four leads, one couple and a brother-and-sister duo.
Tiger Shroff plays Rohan, a boy from a poor family under the guardianship of his uncle and aunt, a relationship that only serves as a prop. Rohan is with his childhood sweetheart Mridula, played by Tara Sutaria, at the start of the film, although she later tries boost her social value after moving to a new college.
After following her to the new school, Rohan becomes friends with Manav (Aditya Seal), two-time winner of the Student of the Year Cup, though his sister, Ananya Pandey's Shreya, takes a dislike to him. Shreya has her own battles too, with an aloof father who blames her for the death of her mother during childbirth. Rivalry and romance pull the group apart and back together again in the 145-minute film.
Shroff is the glue keeping SOTY2 together, with a performance that makes the movie enjoyable for what it is worth, while debutants Pandey and Sutaria hold their fort reasonably well. Ananya is the daughter of actor Chunky Pandey, but there is enough merit to her performance to suggest she will make quite a name for herself. Having been around for five years without doing much of note, it is Seal who comes as the surprise package. He has few lines, but makes every one count.
Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance from Hollywood star Will Smith, who makes a brief cameo during a musical number. (He filmed the scene as part of his online series, Will Smith's Bucket List).
The film has the typically happy ending that Johar is known for, however illogical. Pitting underdog Rohan against champion Manav in the year-ending competitions, the finale bends the rules of time during an all-important kabaddi match.