Yuva (India 2004)

Somehow, I found the time to watch one of the Mani Ratnam films I’d collected. Yuva (2004) represents something that used to happen in European Cinema in the 1920s and early 1930s quite regularly, but only rarely since – the same script made almost simultaneously in two different languages with different actors. Yuva is the Hindi version of a Tamil film produced by Ratnam’s Madras Talkies. An accident delayed shooting on one film and both versions ended up opening on the same day.

The Hindi version did make it to the UK but I missed it. I found a DVD on the Lovefilm rental site. It’s a poor quality DVD with a low resolution image, poor sound and dreadful English subtitles – not only with woeful spelling and grammar, but also out of synch with the images. It’s very difficult to work out who is saying what to whom. The fact that I still enjoyed the film very much is a tribute to the professionalism of the creative team.

Yuva is an important film for several reasons — even though it seems to have flopped at the box office. The title refers to ‘youth’, I think, though the youngest of the lead actors was about 26 in 2004. The story involves the chance meeting of three men on the Howrah Bridge in Kolkotta. As with his earlier film, Alai Payuthey (2000), the opening incident then moves into flashback to tell the stories behind the meetings before returning to the ‘present’ for the last hour (160 mins movie). The three men represent different class positions and different basic ideologies and the story focuses upon the attempts by student politicians to take a stand against a corrupt party machine. The great Om Puri, so well known in the UK, plays the politician villain to perfection.

The film is star studded, although I’ve seen comments that suggest that for Abhishek Bachchan, this film was very important since by accepting a ‘heavy’ role, he widened his range successfully. I did feel that the other actors were familiar, but it was only afterwards that I realised that three of them were in the Othello adaptation, Omkara (2006).

There is a great deal of violence in the film and the finale is rather cartoon-like. However, the violence is necessary, I think, and I thought Bachchan made an excellent villain. There are three aspects of the film I really liked. One was the political narrative and the way in which the script touched on what I take to be current political issues across India. The second was the range of songs and I loved the ‘political’ song sequence. Ratnam does seem to use song sequences differently than in mainstream Hindi films. Finally, it was just great to see a film set in Kolkotta. Several commentators have complained that only Om Puri managed a Bengali accent. I’m not equipped to spot that, but I appreciated the views of the city (although I noted that thanks went to Southern Railways, so I wondered how much footage was shot in Madras?). I realise that although over the years I have seen quite a few Bengali films, they have all been art films or ‘parallel cinema’ films. This was the first Hindi film I’d seen set in the city and it was good to see it soon after The Namesake. What a treat too to see trams and the metro as well as trains – Mani Ratnam’s films seem full of scenes on public transport of all kinds as well as motorbikes and cars.

There is an interesting review of the film on this American university site, although I’m not sure that I totally agree with its analysis of the closing sequence of the film. It does seem odd that Ratnam chose to set the political narrative in West Bengal, although if he had to transpose it from the south, it probably makes more sense than placing it in other northern states. I suspect that I need to know much more about Bengali political parties to read the ending properly.

I’m going to try another Ratnam film soon.

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