Cast: Ajay Devgun, Rani Mukherjee, Abhishek, Vivek Oberoi, Kareena, Esha Deol
Director: Mani Ratnam
Music Director: A.R. Rahman
Nutshell: an ambitious film with a trendy non-linear style doesn’t quite deliver
A Mani Ratnam film is an experience to savour, regardless of the fruits of the experience. Dil se, his previous film, had many flaws but there are moments of sheer beauty, visual and otherwise. In Yuva, he falters yet again, almost as much as a result of his own style than anything else.
For those interested in screenplays, the norm follows a pattern. The beginning, the middle and then the climax. Mani Ratnam turns this on its head, almost Vertigo like by starting the film with the convergence of the three stories which forms what could be called the pre-climax. It’s a fascinating start to the film and sets up one up for what in fact turns out to be a fall. Still, there is much to commend the film.
The film begins on the Hooghly Bridge in Calcutta. The three protagonists all living separate lives but to be interlinked in a way that any could have predicted. We then move into flashbacks of their individual stories starting with Lallan (Abhishek Bachchan). Released from jail, he goes off to collect his wife Sashi (Rani) against her parents’ wishes. Lallan is a good for nothing, not knowing much else than the gutter. Sashi hopes for his ultimate redemption and for that reason alone, suffers his abuse and violence. But Lallan gets embroiled with the underbelly of Calcutta and becomes the right hand hatchet man of an avaricious politician (Om Puri) which ultimately will become his downfall. There is no escape for Lallan and he does not appear to want to escape. Only when the loss of his unborn child hits him does he realize that perhaps there is a better life away from the quagmire that he seems to wallow in.
In contrast, we have Arjun (Vivek Oberoi), a middle class student, with stars (and stripes) in his eyes, his only desire to be off to the United States. That is his only goal until he comes across the spunky Mira (Kareena Kapoor). Inexpicably drawn to her even though she is to be married off shortly, he is still not able to stop her from going off to get married, more out of his own sense of weakness than anything else. Mira also finds herself drawn to Arjun, but submits to his dreams of the US. Finally, we have Michael Mukherjee (Ajay Devgan), son a revolutionary father who fights for what is right and is part of the student’s lobby, intent on eradicating the corrupt politicians that envelope society. Radhika (Esha Deol) is his girlfriend. Michael becomes a thorn in the greedy politician’s side and as fate would have it, Lallan is sent to finish him off.
Hence, we return to the opening sequence, with all the pieces in the jigsaw now seeming to fit. But this is where Yuva suffers the most. In developing each character’s story, you devote much less to taking the film to its climax, tying the three stories together. The three stories could been three separate films and the most powerful and the most uncomfortable being Lallan’s story. The film spends 40 minutes in what is a dark and harrowing story of one of the youths. The discomfort remains as you realize that there is no escape. Ratnam does not glorify his hero, neither does he give him a way out. The fact that there is no redemption means that there is no hope. Arjun’s story is more upbeat and is meant to act as a balance to the previous blackness that one endures at the start of the film. This Segment is simpler and structured well but the film begins to come apart in the third story. The problem here is that nothing is clear-cut and because of the time that has been spent on developing the previous two stories, the film races through this which one expected was the hub of the film.
Yuva was supposedly about student politics, or so one was lead to believe, but in turn, becomes the story of three different individuals. This weakens the climax as the student politics scenario is one that is convoluted, rushed and ultimately, not convincing. Arjun’s sudden interest and commitment to the student movement also looks out of place. For this Ratnam is to blame, in his screenplay and his story.
Ratnam also falters with his choice of actor for the role of Michael Mukherjee. Devgan, a brilliant actor, looks very much out of place and unconvincing as a student leader. Also, he has previously fought against the system, and he is simply not able to bring anything new to his role.
Abhishek Bachchan on the other hand, finally scores a biggie with an uncompromising and controlled performance which shows how far he has come from his earlier films. He is matched most ably by Rani Mukherjee, an actress of tremendous depth and who brings to her character, a great deal of strength despite her unfortunate circumstances. Vivek Oberoi takes on a fluffy role but does it extremely well. He could have slotted into the Abhishek Bachchan role just as easily but it would have been a repeat of his “Company” role and hats off to him to make something of this role. Kareena comes up with an excellent and underplayed performance. No frills, no faces, just simplicity. Have rarely seen her better. Esha Deol has little to do and still needs to go a long way before she loses her gawky exterior.
Rahman’s score is different but does not work well in the film. The title track is badly placed and most songs have been added in places where they need not have been. The only picturisation that leaves any effect is the “khuda Hafiz “ song.
Still, Yuva is certainly worthy of a viewing but don’t go if you are looking for fun. This is a dark and uncomfortable film, a film which strives for a different structure that ultimately leads to its ultimate undoing.