Yuva is perhaps not for all die-hard Mani Ratnam fans. For if you go in expecting the deep, emotionally arresting style of Nayakan, Anjali, Roja, Bombay, Iruvar, or Kannathil Muthamittal, you will walk out disappointed. Although the film revolves around the emotional texture of its three protagonists, Mr. Ratnam stays away from his signature penchant for making his audiences cry. Leave your handkerchiefs at home this time because Yuva is fiercely violent, rugged, and very stylish.
Kurosawa pioneered the fragmented narrative structure with Rashomon, Tarantino desensitized and humorized it with Pulp Fiction, and Iñarittu wove a social exposé with Amores Perros. Ratnam fashions the same structure within the format of mainstream, commercial, Indian cinema, setting it against the backdrop of the youth’s (yuva) involvement in a trivial political configuration.
But this political configuration is of the least importance as Ratnam’s story lies in the ideological clash between Lallan Singh’s (Abhishek Bachchan) violent, emotional vulnerability and Arjun’s (Vivek Oberoi) indecisiveness, enthused by Michael Mukherjee’s (Ajay Devgan) rock-solid resolve. Amongst the speeding cars on Kolkata’s Hoogly Bridge, the three men who had never met each other before, find themselves on the verge of their lives changing. Yuva explores how these men try to overcome hindrances within themselves, in order to survive the circumstances within which they are placed - All this with sleekly crafted, shot, and edited action (Vikram Dharma, Ravi K. Chandran, Sreekar Prasad respectively), humorous directorial nuances, a zingy score (A.R. Rahman), and not to mention a sensational performance by Abhishek Bachchan.
Rumors often whispered when Yuva was in pre-production that Abhishek Bachchan had initially turned Lallan’s role down. For had that been true, it would have been the biggest mistake of his career. Undoubtedly, his is the meatiest character of the three, and under Ratnam’s direction, he devours it wholeheartedly. Mani Ratnam’s flair for emotive mis-en-scene plays a big hand in uplifting his actors’ performances. Strongly executed by Sabu Cyril’s artful production design, a color scheme is assigned to each of the three characters to highlight the nature of their lives: Lallan is placed in an apartment with red walls and Ravi K. Chandran lights his story with a like scheme to highlight the blood, gore, and violence that rules his life. His scenes are shot hand-held with quick cuts. Similarly, Michael’s color is green (to highlight his growth), and Arjun’s is blue (relative serenity), both shot in a very stylized manner.
However, Yuva’s main drawback lies in the excessive emphasis placed on form, and as a result, pacing of its content takes a back seat at times. Had the three stories been edited by cutting back and forth between each other more often as opposed to going through each one at a time, perhaps the pace would have been consistent. But kudos to Prasad and Ratnam for weaving Rahman’s thundering songs intelligently into the narrative. How one wishes that his classy background score was also included in the CD.
Though Yuva is a strange film with unusual characters, it is immensely entertaining. With a fresh style, supreme performances, original material, and a tinge of masala, this one is for those looking for something different. Imperfect and flawed in many ways, Yuva is vibrantly energetic. You will either love it, or you will hate it, but you cannot ignore it.