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I enjoy good Bollywood movies very much, but they represent quite an investment to watch since most of them are between 3h and 4h long: when they are not good, and there are many of course, you have wasted a lot of time. I didn't have a good feel for this movie but rented it anyway. I really like some of the actors in it, including my favorite Bollywood star Rani Mukherjee. The director, Mani Ratnam, has reached both extremes in terms of my likings. Bombay for example is one of my favorite Bollywood movies, but Dil Se is close to the bottom, even if it has one of my favorite musical number ever (Chaya Chaya). Roja was a decent movie but i can't say i was really thrilled. Finally, recently, he wrote Saathiya which is also one of my favorite Bollywood movies. So, on paper at least, the risk was worth taking.
All in all, i was really happy because this movie turned out to be a great example of what i like in Bollywood movies. First of all, there is a strong cultural displacement effect that i am always very fond of. I love sweeping epics that are strongly rooted in cultural elements. Through movies, i get to experience a piece of a culture, another distant country, and people who live completely differently than what i am used to. Bollywood movies, as noted above, are also very long, and when they are successful, at least in my opinion, their extra-length allows them a much deeper character development. All good Bollywood movies are epic in content as they are epic in length. This is important because even for movies i didn't enjoy as much, i still remember characters vividly. Those films, even the bad ones, often succeed in conveying a sense of intimacy with the characters in the story. In a good movie, combined with attractive and good actors, and great music, i feel transported for 3 hours or more into a remote place and i love it. Yuva to me is such a successful movie, blending three views of the world from very different social perspectives, that are bound to collide violently.
Three young men in Calcutta, from three different parts of society have a destiny that ties them together. When their paths finally cross, their lives will change forever and they will become men. Michael (Ajay Devgan), with Radhika (Esha Deol) by his side, is a brilliant student who is driven by the desire to effect change and becomes involved in political activism against the corrupt and rotten minister Prosonjit Bhatacharya (Om Puri). Arjun (Vivek Oberoi) is a happy-go-lucky engineering student with ambitions to immigrate to the US and whose main activity consists of chasing girls for quick thrills when he falls for Mira (Kareena Kapoor). Finally, Lallan (Abhishek Bachchan) is an uneducated, brutish and violent low-life gangster functioning only with instinct-driven responses to anything that comes his way, even his devoted wife Sashi (Rani Mukherjee) who desperately tries to same him from himself. The development of this film is intricate in how it shows those characters' separate lives collide to become one story. On a fateful day, on a famous bridge of Calcutta, Lallan, who has become a hit man for the minister, tries to kill Michael. Arjun, a bystander, is caught up in the intrigue as a key witness, and the person who will save Michael.
The movie is clearly delineated in 4 sections, about 40-50mn each. The movie starts with the hit on Michael on that bridge, and introduces the three main characters. Then, we are immediately brought back in 3 separate flashbacks to learn about each of those characters prior to the hit. In the last section of the film, all three lives are now on the same path to a resolution that will mean life or death for them. This structure works great here and allows you to really focus on each of the characters. In typical "it's fate" fashion, you realize that the stories are already intertwined even before the hit. At first, some things feel confusing because you do not really understand why they matter, or what really happened. But after 2h20mn in the film, when each character has had his segment, everything fits together, and you are propelled into the last 45mn ending in a powerful resolution, although somewhat traditional (good guys win and bad guys don't). Lallan's segment is very gritty and plunges you into the underworld of Calcutta, with its crime lords, and political mangling. It also portrays quite well a desperate relationship between him and his wife, and home abuse. Michael's segment is a somewhat traditional story of the intellectual who awakens with a social conscience and a desire to make a difference. He quickly gets involved in dirty politics and rapidly comes in conflict with the minister in power, and his gangsters such as Lallan, although in an interposed way until the hit. Finally, Arjun's segment is probably the most traditionally Bollywood part of the film, featuring a handsome leading man, and a beautiful leading woman, with lots of cheesy (but in a good way) musical numbers.
From an acting point of view, i really enjoyed pretty much all the performance, although some were uneven. Rani Mukherjee surprised me with a role that is much darker than her usual fare. She is still one of the most gorgeous woman in the universe, and her presence on screen is undeniable, but in this movie, she really showcases deeper acting talents that she has done in the past. She is a battered wife of a violent gangster who tries her best to save him, but ultimately fails. Controversial themes are presented, and she did a great job dealing with the material. Abhishek Bachchan is completely new to me, but i very much enjoyed his performance. I felt that as the movie progressed, he was able to convey his character with greater and greater skills. Maybe he felt more comfortable with the role as the shooting went on, or maybe the overall writing of his character did emphasize his evolution from a 2-bit nobody to a somewhat big shot, and he portrayed that very well. Om Puri is a veteran star and he is as good as he ever was. Ajay Devgan displays great confidence throughout the story and plays his part with ease. He has a lot of charisma on screen, and his powerful role enhances it well. As for Vivek Oberoi, i felt he had a hard time shaking his "beau" reputation. After the brilliant Company, he hasn't done any serious role really and i feel this is starting to typecast him in a bad way. In this movie, he starts with material that should be completely familiar with his audience. He is the handsome young guy out there to have fun, and he sings, and he dances. But then, the movie becomes much more serious, and he becomes a more responsible man. In the last part of the film, his personality really emerges and shows off a more complex acting register. Finally, Kareena Kapoor is adequate but her material is not as extensive as that of the other characters so there is really no room to shine beyond her abilities. For a great display of what she can do, check out the recent, and very interesting, Chameli.
On the technical side, the movie is fairly good, with great cinematography and excellent art direction. The editing is also excellent as it is a big part of how the overall story is conveyed in this film. Finally, the music by A.R. Rahman is OK and that's all, which is disappointing. I remember a few tunes but there isn't any real great song.
Yuva is a great film that takes some investment from the part of the viewer to get into. At over 3h, it requires a good level of attention, and the development of the story, and the many characters, also require focus. Even though the film is ultimately unequal, with most of it being great, and some parts being slow, or just plain cheesy (but in a good Bollywood way), it remains appealing because of its scope. The movie addresses controversial and powerful subjects and does a great job. It is a sweeping story, with many central characters in a rich social tapestry.
One last note for the aficionados: i heard there is another version of that same movie, done in Tamil, same director/writer, with different actors called Ayitha Ezhuthu. If anyone knows about this, i'd appreciate some feedback.
- Laurent Hasson