232. Student of the Year: Radha on the Dance Floor!

If you know, you know. I finally, and very belatedly, watched the movie that the “Radha” song is from. Lemme tell you, I wasn’t missing anything.

It was the usual Bollywood college? high school? (who can tell) caper. At my age, Siddharth and Varun are babies, so I did a lot of forwarding of sporty scenes. I laughed at how pithy the phrase Tata-Bata was. Tata refers to the rich legacy kids, and Bata describes the scholarship kids of more modest means. Rishi Kapoor played a closeted gay principal who sexually harasses the buttoned up but happily married gym teacher; so much casual homophobia is bad for mental health, so the less said about this regressive and juvenile side of Desi culture, the better.

Anyway, the story arc that interested me was the annual competition which the students fight like lions to win. It runs the gamut of athletic, academic, creative, and problem solving skill testing. Everyone gets invested to the point of throwing away friendships and saying things they cannot take back, and by the end, when Varun’s villainous benefactor dad, played by the wonderful Ram Kapoor, shows up to give away the prize, you could spontaneously combust from the angry tension in the school hall.

A larger, and not so academically or athletically gifted kid named Sudo decides that he is going to say what all the students are thinking. He stands up and tells off the principal for the entire competitive enterprise. This is the part I lived for. Sudo declares that it was never a fair fight, and the deck was always stacked against those who weren’t naturally talented or wealthily tutored….

And might I say–Disabled? Fat? For an Indian movie to even try to tackle the topic of how no one is allowed to check out of ableism in academia is amazing. And, might I say, that the messaging was placed in precisely such an inane but much watched movie was just right. It might be cringey to admit, but these bubble gummy starrers are watched far more around the world than the serious themed ones. And for once, it was nice to see a character who was not muscled or gifted or whatever get to deliver some dialogue that wasn’t self deprecating or clownish. Sudo really tried to win, but he never had a chance, and he got to call out the BS with dignity. Let’s raise the bar on that. It doesn’t need to stay low.

Finally, I noted the end, when Siddharth-Varun reconnect after many years of not speaking. Varun is still enraged that Siddharth let him win. And Siddharth admits that he did it because he could see that Varun’s villainous dad was hoping his own son would lose. This too was important. When our kids cannot make our dreams (mostly born of internalized ableism and our past wounds) come true, do we still have acceptance? Excitement about their futures? Love to give them?

Every act of cruelty and exclusion aimed at the disabled comes from people’s own perfectionism and fear of failure. Once we know that, we can understand better how we are all connected, and how we are not more saintly for laying down our weapons. We are doing it to save our own lives too.


Source: I watched “Student of the Year” on Netflix.

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