Review: Yuva – The Youth (2004)

Yuva – The Youth (2004)

Directed by: Mani Ratnam | 180 minutes | drama, crime | Actors: Ajay Devgan, Abhishek Bachchan, Vivek Oberoi, Om Puri, Rani Mukherjee, Esha Deol, Anant Nag, Kareena Kapoor, Vijay Raaz, Loveleen Mishra, Saurabh Shukla

During the first twenty minutes of ‘Yuva’ (“youth”) you don’t even realize that you are watching a Bollywood movie. The story is serious, the style sober and quite realistic and the acting naturalistic. Perhaps some shots focusing on the storyline of a couple in love can give you a hint. Until we get a romantic musical interlude in Lallan’s story. Then we know what time it is. However, this part also comes across as relatively natural and organic. The romance is little more than a slight, positive peak in the gray story, which quickly resumes after the “interruption”.

The structure of the story is familiar: as in Alejandro González Iñarritu’s ‘Amores Perros’ (2000), the lives of three characters come together through one incident, which we are confronted with at the beginning of the film. And just like in that film, the incident is a traffic “accident”, which in this case is an attack. After the opening, the different paths of the characters leading to this event are shown to the viewer one by one through long flashbacks. However, there are differences with Iñarritu’s film. Thus, the incident does not accidentally unite the lives of the three characters: one of them, Lallan, explicitly targets the other, Michael. Only the third person, Arjun, is a casual passerby. But his story takes an important turn by the event and really starts here. The incident is therefore not the end point of the film. The three introduced stories become more and more intertwined from this point on.

This is both a disadvantage and an advantage. The disadvantage is that you first get about two hours of introductions of characters, before you see how they relate. This initially gives you the feeling that you are being presented with too little content or story. The advantage is that you get a good picture of the characters and that the film slowly but surely adds puzzle pieces to an increasingly rich whole.

The first story, which focuses on Lallan and Shahsi, is initially the most captivating. Bachchan’s acting, who doesn’t play a sympathetic hunk for once, is very powerful and refreshing. His well-dosed outbursts and subcutaneous threat create an interesting field of tension, especially when scenes are added in which he comes across as vulnerable. We understand that he actually wants to get out of the bad spiral and the criminal circuit and want the best for him and his wife, but that he simply does not have the mental strength for this. Rani Mukherjee is, as usual, excellent. Although she stays with her aggressive husband, she doesn’t come across as a traditionally docile woman. As Sahsi, she continuously radiates an inner strength and comes across as a three-dimensional character.

With the narration of the second story, about student leader Michael, the first story actually starts to become sufficiently satisfying. This, because of the way these two stories are inherently related. They are two sides of the same coin and therefore they know how to reinforce each other. We get a nice broad picture of the specific political unrest in which Michael and Lallan are key figures. Also in the case of Michael’s role there is talk of contrary casting. Ajay Devgan seems to normally play some dark types. In ‘Yuva’, however, he is an unadulterated hero. He does everything in his power to overthrow or challenge the corrupt government. The scene is beautiful in which he tells the villagers in the countryside that they should not give way to intimidation and violence and should simply stand for election. An interesting moment also takes place in the last segment of the film, when the students, after their fanatical struggle for their chances, are really faced with the decisive choice to enter the political battle. Do they have the courage to say “b” after “a”? Michael’s success only gets a bit of a bad taste when he first used excessive force himself. In addition, these violent scenes undermine the realistic character of the film. Michael turns out to be, in addition to being an inspired leader, also a star in martial arts, just like the other protagonists. Occasionally we’ll see flashy, over-the-top fights that go on for too long and are just too absurd (in the final fight of the movie, on the highway, someone even pulls a rim off a passing car, to use as a weapon).

The third story is a bit of an odd one out and initially doesn’t seem to belong at all. Unlike the rest of the film, this is a lighthearted romantic story about flierefluiter Arjun (Vivek Oberoi), who only cares about himself and wants to make it in America. This section is also more colorful than the rest of the film and just has more traditional Bollywood elements in it. But while this part is a bit more conventional, the tone is fun self-referential. For example, when we have just finished the obligatory musical interlude on the beach and Meera (Kareena Kapoor) makes a very sweet remark to Arjun – “If you come any closer, even God can’t save us” – it turns out a little later that she fooled. And later when Meera makes Arjun shout out on a bridge that he loves her, he says: “You watch too many Hindi films”. In addition, the frivolous nature of Arjun himself is the point of his character. Later he comes to realize that it is more valuable to take responsibility, to give to people and, at home, to fight for a good cause. His turn to a politically engaged boy may not have been presented convincingly, but the idea is laudable. Also Meera’s sudden return to Arjun isn’t really convincing, and the same goes for some of the other decisions characters make in the film. It’s also a shame that the whole procession to the student elections isn’t explained a little better or made more exciting. The result of this leaves the viewer relatively cold.

The sparse songs are also well placed and manage to capture the right tone (for example in the case of the inspiring song on tractors and trucks, intended to mobilize the people). The female roles, in addition to those of Mukherjee, are also interpreted in a nuanced way, although Esha Deol, as Michael’s girlfriend, doesn’t get much to do. Actually, the acting is excellent across the board (although Devgan is a bit too old to pass for a student leader).

Too bad about some lack of substance or execution here and there and the over-the-top action scenes that break the style. Apart from these aspects, the film can be called a small gem.

Comments are closed.