Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar to SOTY2: Here's Why Bollywood has Become Even More Regressive
Unfortunately, both Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander and SOTY 2 take on a lot from Hollywood's high school films stereotypes.
A poster of Student of the Year 2.
27 years after Mansoor Khan's cult film Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander hit the screens, filmmaker Punit Malhotra and Dharma Productions decided to borrow the entire template of the iconic film, strip it off the complexities of class divide and the angst of coming-of-age and make a film for 'today's youth' and call it Student of The Year 2 (SOTY 2).
What unfolds in the two and a half hours runtime of SOTY 2 though will truly make one wonder if this inferior and atrociously inane 2.0 version of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander is actually more sexist and regressive than the cult film that was made almost three decades ago? Also, another important question that should be pondered upon is do the young Indian audience really want to watch films such as these?
SOTY 2 has all the archetypes of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander -- The 'gold digger' girlfriend Devika (Pooja Bedi) has been represented by Mridula 'Mia' Chawla (Tara Sutaria), the arrogant jock and the defending champion of Rajput College Shekhar Malhotra (Deepak Tijori) has a reflection in Manav Singh Randhawa (Aditya Seal). Then there is, of course, the underdog hero who finally finds the purpose of his life (Tiger Shroff's Rohan disastrously substituting for Aamir Khan's spunky, angsty Sanju act).
There is also a variation of the loyal, tomboy friend-zoned heroine, Anjali (Ayesha Julka) in Shreya (Ananya Pandey). The similarities do not end in characterisation though, the story too is not different at all. The crucial cycle race has been substituted by a Kabaddi match, but that's all that the creative Punit Malhotra could think of. Really!
In SOTY 2, the underdog hero from a disreputed college, Pishorilal, takes on the stud of the elite institute -- St Teresa, to win the Dignity Cup and Student of The Year Trophy.
Surprisingly, while both Pishorilal and St Teresa are co-educational institutions in the film, there is not a single girl competing for the Student of The Year trophy. This complete gender discrimination is new, even in Dharma-verse. In the first film of this particular film franchise, which launched Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan and Siddharth Malhotra, everyone competed, but of course, no prize for guessing that no girl won. Bhatt's Shanaya was too torn between which boy to choose to bother with winning the trophy. The other girls in the film were just ditzy, catty arm candies.
In SOTY 2, girls do not feature in the grander schemes of Malhotra and Dharma Productions at all, if a dance-off is not being staged or a sports bra or a crop top is not required to be flaunted.
The sexism of the film doesn't end there. At one point all the three main characters of the film sit down to actually let Tiger Shroff's Rohan decide which girl will score him -- Shreya or Mia? In the tone of a referee, Shroff says that no girl should shout, fight or cry, as he decides. Really, I mean why should women compete for Student of The Year Trophy, when they can fight over a man?
One would also hope that in 2019 Bollywood films would move beyond making jokes on the expense of the LGBTQ community. Karan Johar himself directed a beautiful short film on same-sex love in Bombay Talkies. But in the Dharma-verse, things work differently and using LGBTQ characters to get more laughs is a routine. Kantabai's shivers on seeing two men cosying up in Kal Ho Na Ho has a cult status, and Maa Da Ladla Bigad Gaya from Dostana still is one of memorable Dharma film moments. No surprises then, that SOTY 2 has its own lesbian hilarity. In the film, Shreya (Pandey) tells Rohan (Shroff) that the only way to make it to the St Teresa's sports team is to entice the coach (play by Gul Panag) with his biceps and six packs.
While Rohan clearly doesn't spend a minute debating whether he should take this excellent advice as he flaunts his chiselled body, Shreya stands in the background laughing and yay-ing because she knows that the coach is a lesbian and doesn't care much for Shroff's oiled torso. Panag's character literally has that one scene where she has more than one line of dialogue in the film. In the rest of the film, she stands on the sidebar, reminding words to the principal of Teresa played by Sameer Soni, who must have genuinely thought that being a principal is like hosting a game show.
While Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander too had its own set of clichés and gender stereotypes -- the girls of Queen's college were objectified throughout, there was a stereotype of a girl whose idea of ambition was to latch onto a man with a trust fund -- it was also sensitive in its portrayal of the female lead.
Anjali (Ayesha Jhulka) worked in her dad's garage as well as took care of her motherless household. She was the voice of reason when Sanju swayed from the right path and the loving friend who would, despite being treated badly, show up to help her friend in need.
Jhulka's character wasn't the flagbearer of feminism, she too cheered from the stands much like the Dharma girlies, was easily manipulated by Sanju who used her affections to extort money but she is also the person who pushes Sanju to participate in the cycle race after Ratan ends up in the hospital. She is the one who trains Sanju singlehandedly for the race. She thinks and decides for herself when to call it quits and stop being exploited. So, in many ways, even Anjali, who isn't perhaps the best-written character of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander was a far better character than Sutaria got to play in SOTY 2.
While Pandey had a meatier role and a backstory, the makers of SOTY 2 clearly wanted to focus on other important things like her athleisure wardrobe, her capacity to nurture her grudge as if it were a favourite pet and her insipid dialogues, which sound more like Instagram captions, than like an actual person talking.
Unfortunately, both Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander and SOTY 2 take on a lot from Hollywood's high school films stereotypes --- the jock, the total babe/cheerleader, the tomboy chick/heroine, the underdog hero -- we have seen it all, in various campuses of Bollywood films and while a few of them have even worked, and SOTY 2 may also power through box office (who knows!), the question is how is the Indian youth taking these films that are made primarily made for them?
Bollywood seldom bothers with realism or logic, that's the reason perhaps that every other Bollywood film critic begins to watch a Hindi film by 'adjusting his/her expectations'. Ever since Karan Johar took over Dharma, they have mostly produced films that are aspirational in nature, they have created worlds where people dream of being.
Perhaps that's the reason why there are no books or classes in Teresa and everyone is either at dance practice or in the track field and while critics and the intelligent audience may scoff at this ridiculous world, Dharma is creating the exact set-up that many youngsters crave for. Yes, there are a few young people on the Twitterverse who are making memes on SOTY 2 as you read this, but they too have watched it, and so will the thousands of youngsters from tier 2 and tier 3 cities.
For me, personally, there were several disturbing moments onscreen while watching SOTY 2, but what really surprised me was when a bunch of school girls, sitting in front of me, squealed with glee as the music of the song Kukkad (from SOTY) played in the background and Tiger Shroff hopped, skipped and jumped through every terrace of Dehra Dun.
There was a distinct cheer when two alumni from SOTY were shown as commentators of the Kabaddi match in SOTY 2. I did not know who these two actors are but the youngsters in the audience sure did. The end credit of SOTY 2 rolled with the alumna of St Teresa, Shanaya aka Alia Bhatt, dancing with Shroff, and might I say that several kids documented this moment on their phones.
In the last seven years, the first installment of SOTY, which was a very mediocre film in its own right, set-up in an equally absurd and lavish world of St Teresa, and had really unidimensional women characters, has somehow managed to become a cult among school kids, and college goers. What does that say about the GoT binging, Marvel loving young Indian audience?
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