AAYITHA EZHUTHU / YUVA
MAY 27, 2004 – AAYITHA EZHUTHU/YUVA IS REALLY Professor Mani Ratnam’s moral science lesson to India’s youth. The portion with hired killer Inba (Madhavan)/Lallan (Abhishek Bachchan) could well be titled Crime Doesn’t Pay. The life of selfless activist Michael (Surya/Ajay Devgan) is a Serve Your Society appeal, while self-serving yuppie Arjun (Siddharth/Vivek Oberoi) plays out a Redemption Is Always Possible scenario. Oh, and let’s not forget the overall message: Good Usually Triumphs Over Evil.
Sounds drab, right? It’s actually anything but. From the opening credits that zip across like speeding highway cars to the eye-popping climactic action sequence, Aayitha Ezhuthu/Yuva is an explosion of filmmaking energy first – and secondly, only secondly, is it an example of how to successfully fold messages and ideas into an overarchingly broad entertainment.
The pre-release insinuation about Amores Perros being an inspiration turns out partly true. There’s definitely a stylistic similarity – in the hyper-cut frenzy of the accident that links the three protagonists from three walks of life; in the way this accident is revisited before branching off into each of their stories, chapter-titles and all. For that matter, the relationship dynamics between Inba/Lallan and Shashi (Meera Jasmine/Rani Mukerji) echo those between Val Kilmer and Ashley Judd in Heat.
Why look only towards foreign shores? Mani Ratnam’s own work is referenced more than anything else. The beach song is a Gen Y update of Vaa Vaa Anbe (Agni Natchatiram), Shashi’s leaving her parents (against their wishes) for her man is a tad Saathiya-like, Inba’s wish that his children shouldn’t grow up like him is right out of Nayakan, and rowdy-idealist Michael is a more fleshed-out Karthik from Mouna Raagam. (His mother even exclaims, like Revathi in the latter movie, that she hates not knowing where he’ll turn up next – at a lockup or in a hospital.)
The point is, the patches may be from all over, but why complain when the resulting quilt is so ravishingly crafted? Ravi K Chandran’s cinematography is exquisitely invisible. Each scene delivers, through light and colour, the exact intended mood, without clamouring for look-what-a-great-shot acclaim. AR Rahman contributes not just a terrific soundtrack, but also an evocative background score with plaintive country-western guitar twangs, full-blooded Orffian chants and alaap-style vocalisations. The dialogues often add vital humour to the drama – after a Lallan-Shashi showdown, she reveals she’s pregnant; he retorts, “Baap kaun hai?” – and had Virumaandi not already viewed the same incident from several viewpoints, Mani Ratnam’s bold, distinctive narration would have seemed even more sensational.
Aayitha Ezhuthu/Yuva isn’t all technical exterior; its heart beats with three very different kinds of love. Inba/Lallan and Shashi are bonded through the ages – as the song goes, he’s kabhi neem kabhi shahad kabhi naram kabhi sakht; every loathsome trait comes with a loving one, and she just can’t let go. The Arjun-Meera (Trisha/Kareena Kapoor) affair, in contrast, begins as a casual hormonal fling, which, again, differs from the more high-minded Michael-Radhika (Esha Deol) bond, born of friendship and shared ideals.
These love stories unfold deliberately, and this helps to savour the relationships. As Radhika drifts aimlessly, flush with Michael’s declaration of love, or when Arjun and Meera take a bus ride on their last date, the pushing-fifty Mani Ratnam proves once again that there aren’t many better portrayers of young love – or of youth itself. Watching Radhika superstitiously tie a thread around Michael’s wrist, or hearing the US-crazy Arjun talk about tonsuring his children at the Pittsburgh Balaji temple, you see that, for all the posturing, religion is still a part of young India.
At the same time, this movie about youth invites its audience to be a little mature, to dig in a little deeper. When three lives are presented in three distinct quarters – as opposed to being detailed throughout the course of a film – only so much can be shown, so some extrapolation becomes necessary. You may wonder, for instance, why Arjun’s priorities shift so conveniently, after just a few meetings with Michael, but then you think back and say maybe it’s also because he’s fallen in love – his transformation is as much Meera’s doing as Michael’s.
Finally, we get to the fourth quarter, and Mani Ratnam, after carefully spinning three engrossing narrative threads, suddenly throws his hands up in the air. The last half-hour is crammed with all sorts of tying-up devices, many of which don’t work at all, especially the political wish-fulfillment scenarios that make the one-day-CM idealism of Mudhalvan look like gritty social realism. It’s great to want to show denim coexisting with khadi – this makes for a knockout visual as well – but that kind of accomplishment needs to be in a movie of its own, not just in the scrambling-to-a-finish climactic portions. In Yuva, at least, the ho-hum political bad guy (Om Puri) is merely a smooth-talking gasbag, but (director) Bharatiraja, playing the same role in Aayitha Ezhuthu, looks and speaks as if he’s stepped right out of the gutter. Are we really to believe that college idealism can triumph so easily over such ruthlessness?
So Aayitha Ezhuthu/Yuva begins with a bang and ends with a whimper, but the bang lasts well into three-quarters of the film. You could say that that makes the end all the more disappointing, or you could take a leaf from Mani Ratnam’s upbeat ending and feel satisfied that so much works so well – especially in Aayitha Ezhuthu.
The gritty Tamil version works better than the (relatively) glossy Yuva, primarily due to its cast. Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukerji are impressive, but not as heartbreakingly intense as Madhavan and Meera Jasmine. Vivek Oberoi and Kareena Kapoor are fine, but Siddharth and Trisha look less like happening movie stars, more like the Every-Yuppie they’re playing. Only Surya and Ajay Devgan – and Esha Deol, who’s better in Yuva because she seems more comfortable with the language – even out; both take some getting used to as college students, but both pull you in with their passion.
Aayitha Ezhuthu is also more rounded because it has scenes that Yuva doesn’t. An early Michael-Inba brawl puts a personal face to their relationship, while Michael and Lallan (in Yuva) are just strangers till the accident. Arjun in the Tamil version faces two life-altering experiences – with Michael’s mother, with Meera (at a railway station) – that his Hindi counterpart doesn’t, so it’s easier to accept the subsequent transformation of the former, the “vellaikaaranukku kooja thookkara case” as Meera so eloquently puts it.
So, yes, if you had to choose at gunpoint, go with Aayitha Ezhuthu, but no such persuasion should be needed to make you watch at least one of the versions. Aayitha Ezhuthu may score over Yuva, but either one is way more exciting, more stimulating and more entertaining than anything we usually get to see.
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