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Revisit Mani Ratnam’s Yuva As It Turns 18 Years Old On May 22



Mani Ratnam’s Yuva

The easiest thing in the world is to sneer at someone who attempts to be unconventional through conventional routes.  In that sense master-creator Mani Ratnam and  Michael Mukherjee,  his protagonist in Yuva, share the same predicament. Like Ajay  Devgan’s fascinating character who wants to  bring about a  change in the social order Mani Rathnam’s  cinema signifies tremendous leaps in the way we perceive popular entertainment in this country.

  A  riveting blend of social message and  entertainment is what sets Yuva apart. Like Ratnam’s first Hindi film Dil SeYuva is an extremely restless film about young characters who are on the look-out for a relevance to  their existence . While Michael wants to use student power to change the festering fortunes of Indian politics,  the loutish Lallan(Abhishek Bachchan)   just wants a decent life for his wife(Rani Mukherjee) and himself, and never  mind if it’s through indecent means.

 The third and most blithe-spirited protagonist Arjun(Vivek Oberoi) is a commitment-phobic selfseeking wannabe whose plans of making millions in  the US go phut  when he mets the  mesmerizing girl next door Meera(Kareena Kapoor)

 Each protagonist  extends a fidgety power into the narrative. Among the many  absorbing  facets to  Mani Ratnam’s  storytelling, is  the way he uses time passages in the lives of the various characters and the delightfully inventive modes of plotting  whereby different perceptions are projected simultaneously into the  various characters’ line of vision  . These   are proof of a mind that creates cinema through  literary devices.

  You can almost read between the lines that  Mani Rathnam crosses from one protagonist’s life into another. The effect is of seawaves lapping against the shore and receding to  leave  behind   tempting tides of significances  .

  The 3-tiered  plot  creates a sense of louring lyricism in the plot. Every character fits in the Kolkata milieu without stretching to cohere in the  larger picture. Yet, the existence of the binding cosmic force that keeps  Mani’s world and the world beyond  his creation  ,looms  large over the narrative.

  The gangster Lallan and    his  volatile  blow-hot-blow-cold relationship with his wife Shashi(Rani Mukherjee) echoes Manoj Bajpai and Shefali Chhaya’s  tempestuous rapport in Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya. But beyond that echo of familiarity is an aching originality  contouring every frame, nurturing the characters through a remarkable process of selfdiscovery.

     Unlike Dil Se whose narrative couldn’t really hold the audiences, Yuva keeps us glued to the goings-on till the very end, not because it tells a remarkably original story but because characters whom we’ve probably encountered in numerous other flicks  come alive here as curvaceously complete  characters, full of  little gestures and understated personality traits that we may miss at first.

   Yuva is like a visit to  a  strange and warm tropical island . At  first the sights and sounds may appear too familiar  for excitement.  But every shrub and every rock hides a new experience.  It’s that  subterranean experience that  Yuva brings to the surface in pelting layers  of  insightful  narration.

      Rathnam goes from one level of characterization to another, weaving in and out of three lives without creating  autonomous selfcontained world for each protagonist. The  men who tower over the  plot are  also the tools in the  hands of  destiny. This   simultaneity between chance and deliberation is sustained throughout.

   More than a film about ideas (so well conceived and  executed you wonder why didn’t any other filmmaker think of it!)  Yuva is a  walloping entertainer. It’s simply impossible to forget the three protagonists  and their mesh of karmic adventures.  The romantic side to the political  parable about   a  student leader, a hit-man and a drifter is brought out so sharply in so little space, you wonder if  economy of expression is Mani ‘s mainstay as a master raconteur.

  As in all his earlier masterpieces including the dark and moody Dil Se and Kannattil Muttamittal  Mani Rathnam stuns us with his aesthentic and creative motivations. We simply cannot take our eyes off a single frame without losing out on a strand of whispering  relevance , or perhaps something far more valuable  would slip out of our hands   if we  blink . We really don’t know…but we want to!

  That   intangible  essence of life   bathes  Yuva in  a dusky light, creating an atmosphere of absolute enchantment. To speak on the technical skills  that have gone into Ratnam’s new mega-entertainer would be going into obvious areas of praise . But yes, Ravi K. Chandran’s cinematography and  Sabu Cyril’s art work  create a separate  look for each  of the protagonist’s story.

   And now for the performances, so crucial to this character-driven film that any  wrong major or minor casting could have ruined the symphony of  surcharged  emotions  that hover over the frames in perched delicacy.

 Every performance is unputdownable…concrete yet ambivalent. Footage-wise Ajay Devgan leads the cast, bringing a certain maturity and mellowness  in  a narrative idiom where   tempers and passions run perpetually high.   Vivek as the jaunty dude is bright and dead-on .  He happily  complements and buffers Devgan’s idealism and Abhishek’s amorality .

 But the film belongs to Abhishek Bachchan. As the impetuous hit-man who loves his wife to death   Abhishek’s eyes and smile rattle us with their sincerity. His Lallan is obnoxious  and violent, and yet  never anything but a  child of  an obnoxious and violent  social order. This films marks the coming of age of  the actor.

  In spite of limited footage ,  the  3 girls succeed in making a lasting impact. Kareena’s role is specially fey and insubstantial. She turns these character traits to her own advantage to create a  girl who’s at once enigmatic and  all-there—a  bit like the film itself which is both  mysterious and voluptuous.

 A R Rahman’s music  comes alive on  screen creating lashing licks of luscious beats for the characters to  chew on. The stunts by Vikram Dharma involving the skidding Kolkatan traffic on  the Howrah bridge are heart-in-the-mouth stuff.

   A word on Mani Ratnam’s love-making sequences. Why do all the three protagonists pick up their women in an identical way   to embrace them tightly? Is this the director’s way  of telling us that when it comes to matters of the heart and sex, all men are the same?

 Or are we imagining too much in a casual embrace?

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