My recent (and long overdue) viewing of Dil Se sparked my interest in other films by Mani Ratnam. I thought 2007’s Guru was okay, and I was interested in watching some of the director’s previous films. I was pleased to discover a copy of Yuva at my local library and even more pleased by the movie itself.
Yuva (“Youth”) begins with a drive-by shooting on a bridge. Arjun (Vivek Oberoi) sees Lallan (Abhishek Bachchan) shoot Michael (Ajay Devgan), the stranger who’d just given him a ride on the back of his motorbike. The context for the shooting is provided in three flashbacks, one for each of the young men.
Lallan is a career criminal who does the dirty work for his older brother, Gopal (Sonu Sood), an aide to the corrupt politician Prosonjit Bhattacharya (Om Puri). Violence permeates his life. When Lallan isn’t beating up student protesters, he smacks around his wife, Sashi (Rani Mukerji), who clings to the hope that he’ll find a respectable job. That becomes unlikely when he’s contracted to kill Michael.
Michael is a student leader who inspires disenfranchised village voters to stand up against politicians like Bhattacharya. When need be, he’s not afraid to resort to violence, just like the politicians he opposes. The contract for Michael’s death is issued after he and dozens of students invade Gopal’s home as a means of intimidation.
Arjun is a recent college graduate who dreams of moving to the United States. He considers changing his plans after meeting Mira (Kareena Kapoor), who’s engaged to someone else. He stops Michael on the street and begs him to chase after Mira’s taxi, which they catch up to on the bridge.
The trend in American movies and TV shows with a similar construction is for the opening scene to double as a climactic scene, but Yuva’s opening scene returns to end the first half of the movie. The second half sees the three men decide whether to continue on their present paths, or make a change for the future. Their lives intersect again in the climax.
While the plot is generally about politics, Yuva‘s main theme is violence. It’s a gory film, compared to other Hindi movies. Even though most of the violence involves fists, it graphically shows just how much damage a punch can do.
The three main characters relate to violence in different ways. It defines Lallan, who learned to fend for himself after being abandoned by Gopal at a young age. He can’t get away from it, even for the sake of his pregnant wife.
Arjun fights as a matter of self-preservation. As the witness to a violent crime, his life is in danger unless he’s prepared to defend himself.
Michael’s relationship with violence is the most complex. As a student leader, he opposes the brutal tactics of intimidation employed by some established politicians, yet he’s happy to pick a fight with their goons to achieve his own ends. He’s more of a populist than Bhattacharya, but one wonders if he’s really interested in changing the political culture.
Yuva is engrossing and fascinating, as it seems to present a practice of politics so different from that in America. But with a man bringing a gun to a presidential rally last summer and an armed march in April to demand Second Amendment rights, it might not be as different as we think.