2 Stars (out of 4)
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Youngistaan shares much in common with the 1993 Hollywood film Dave. Both are about regular guys shoved into the political spotlight, only to realize that they are now in a position to positively impact the lives of ordinary citizens. Dave is a better movie, so watch that instead.
Jackky Bhagnani stars in Youngistaan as Abhi, a game developer living in Japan with his longtime girlfriend, Avni (Neha Sharma). They are living life to the fullest, as we learn from nearly fifteen minutes of songs and scenes of them having fun.
The party stops when Abhi’s father, the Indian Prime Minister (played by Boman Irani), succumbs to cancer in an Orlando, Florida, hospital. They aren’t really in Orlando but somewhere in Australia, so why not just say they’re in Australia? It’s not like Orlando is famous for its cutting-edge cancer centers — unless there’s some new Epcot pavilion that went in since I last visited.
On his deathbed, Abhi’s father explains the state of Indian politics to his son and makes a request. A new prime minister will be installed, but the position is temporary. With election season just three months away — and with the ruling party polling so unfavorably — the interim prime minister is unlikely to be reelected. Accepting the nomination would be political suicide. That’s why Dad wants Abhi to accept the nomination and use his short window of opportunity to make a difference.
This does not sit well with Avni, who knows that a 28-year-old prime minister will be seen as a joke. She also worries about the strain the job will put on their relationship, although she underestimates how drastic the changes will be. That’s one of the hallmarks of Youngistaan: characters are repeatedly unprepared for events, solely as a matter of plot convenience.
Abhi quickly discovers how conservatism and infighting hamper political progress, and his suggestions are dismissed. He tries to win over young voters by playing hockey, which seems desperately uncool.
Abhi’s real problem is that he and Avni insist on living together and delude themselves into thinking that no one will find out. Even though they plan on getting married someday — and they’ve already been together for three years — Avni wants to do it on their terms and not just to make Abhi’s career easier. This is dumb, especially since hiding their relationship forces Avni to live essentially under house arrest. She’s so bored, she paints a picture of a fetus (I’m not kidding).
I’ve bagged on Jackky Bhagnani in the past, but he’s okay in Youngistaan. So is Sharma, although her character is frequently reduced to a stereotypical jealous girlfriend. Farooq Shaikh plays the role of Abhi’s wise, old advisor with such scholarly aloofness that you could have substituted him with a cartoon owl and no one would have noticed.
The politics in Youngistaan may make sense to people familiar with Indian democracy, but they are too convoluted for outsiders. At least the characters state the time frame — Abhi has three months to get things done — so the stakes are clear.
Things should have been more understandable given how slowly all of the characters talk. The plot unfolds at a snail’s pace, interrupted by man-on-the-street interviews of nobodies telling the audience how they are supposed to feel. The climax is ten minutes of characters watching election returns on TV.
Given how young the electorate of India is, Youngistaan had a real opportunity to address their aspirations and motivate them to action. Instead, writer-director Syed Ahmed Afzal gives us politics as usual.