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YUVA. Director: Mani Ratnam. Players: Ajay Devgan, Abhishek Bachchan, Vivek Oberoi, Rani Mukherjee, Kareena Kapoor, Esha Deol. Music: A.R. Rahman. Theatrical release.

Mani Ratnam’s films, like those of many filmmakers based in southern India, carry a strong regional and especially political flavor, which sets them apart from many Hindi films. On the surface, Yuva is no different. This amalgamation of bored college youth dabbling in local politics would surely get lost in the hands of a lesser filmmaker. However, in Ratnam’s hands, Yuva reveals a complex, modern drama that breaks new ground in both storytelling and execution.

Cleverly spinning together three stories in a seamless grander canvas, Yuva captivates from the get-go. First, there is Lallan (Bachchan), a streetwise, morally-challenged toughie and would-be underworld hired gun trying to juggle both a career in crime and a stormy marriage to the always-questioning Sashi (Mukherjee). Then, there is Michael (Devgan), an undergraduate scholar contemplating giving up a promising academic future to enter politics. Finally, there is Arjun (Oberoi), a die-hard romantic, who wants to steer clear of politics, opting instead to focus on fellow student Mira (Kapoor).

Using the cleverest plot twists, the three distant-appearing stories logically coalesce into one borderless narrative. Ratnam uses ingenious reverse storytelling—showing the ending sequence before rewinding to the beginning—for a nifty undertaking. On a grander scale, Yuva has that aforementioned Chennai “feel” in that politics steer a strong undercurrent. There is, however, clearly much more going on here than just a Hindi-film dressing given to a Chennai-grounded story. The political angle is nicely executed through the presence of Puri’s Bannerjee as a local power broker vying for supremacy with the activist students. Bannerjee is not only the students’ biggest promoter at local events but also their nemesis for his backroom deal makings.

In a crowded A-list cast, Bachchan is most noteworthy. After a decent turn in LoC, Bachchan again proves his mettle by breathing an unpredictable intensity into Lallan’s goon. Bachchan’s complex Lallan carries shades of the underworld bulldog his father Amitabh carried in Deewar. Also commendable is Mukherjee’s struggling housewife on the verge of losing control over both herself and her marriage.

Authenticating the Kolkata setting by playing the film out in the back alleys, waterways, rooftops, and college campuses of that sprawling mega-city is yet another feather that makes this cap stick for Ratnam. Bachchan’s encounter with a would-be underworld associate staged on a car ferry spinning in the churning waters under Kolkata’s famed Howrah Bridge is memorable. The film’s only slight drawback is Rahman’s average musical score that comes alive only with Adnan Sami’s Baadal tune. Even with a limited-range Rahman, Yuva proves that disoriented youth and politics don’t necessarily make strange bedfellows.

Aniruddh C.

Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.