Monday, January 29, 2007
Walking down the road, passing the hordes of people along, it is an interesting musing to wonder and ponder on the lives of the strangers who catch the attention for reasons fairly obvious or reasons unknown for not more than a few seconds. The happy faces, the sad ones, the serious faces, the blank ones - each of those faces pose quite a challenge surmising how each of their lives could be, whether they lead the same comfortable lives as they 'look', if they are as troubled in their day to lives as they seem to be, if they are as driven and focused as the aura they exude. Mani Ratnam's Yuva is built more on this observational (voyeuristic) interest in the slice of a day at a particular place at a particular time than it is about point of views and perspectives. It is not about criss-crossing of paths, not about interlinking of fates nor is it about pure coincidences that somehow shape the lives or the futures of the strangers in question. Instead it freezes one important event that happens at a particular place (Howrah Bridge) and then back tracks all the incidents that lead up to that event. In that regard, it is very much a linear story played in reverse like Chistopher Nolan's Memento (minus the suspense, minus the surprise at the end of each scene where more information is revealed about the incident that happened before), than it follows Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" or P.T.Anderson's "Magnolia" (that subscribe to no coincidence theory where characters weave in and out of the lives of others affecting the lives/fates they come into direct/indirect contact with in some way or the other) or Kurosawa's Rashomon, which follows the pattern of 4 blind people trying to describe an elephant feeling it physically. It is more like different strands that are tied up at one end than it is like the different layers of the onion, where more is revelaed about the core with each peeling. (For more information about or insight into this interesting structure, refer to Yandamuri Veerendranadh's novel "vennellO gODaari").
Struggle is the common thread that flows undercurrent through the three stories that run into each other at the end (or at the beginning) and the three characters that collide with each other at the end (or at the beginning). Lallan, the street thug, struggles to keep his marriage and his senility intact, while enforcing his iron will on the streets either by bashing up or killing people, on the side. Micheal struggles to enforce his ideals and ideologies on the chaos around while desperately trying to bring some sense and order to the world. Arjun struggles just to find a balance between his wants and his means, his choices and his reasons, bumbling his way through life and getting around mostly with his good looks. If it does not sound too ironic, Lallan, Micheal and Arjun can be termed as The Good, The Bad and the Ugly as far as their clarity of thought and clarity of understanding are concerned. Leaving value judgments aside, Lallan is really clear about what he wants and how to get it, while Micheal is wound up in his ideal world unable to come to terms with the practical aspect of it and Arjun is the worst of the lot, with neither a direction to follow nor a will to commit to a direction. And just like it is with the characters, the script gets progressively weak, from Lallan to Arjun, establishing Lallan in a strong light pitted against dangerous elements in life-threatening situations, while the focus gets relatively soft and blurry as the things move from Lallan to Micheal along and by the time Arjun's character is established, his motivations (to fall in love, to go to US, to become what he ultimately turns into at the end of the movie) become as weak as his character and as flimsy as his principles. This is just one of those rare cases, when one wishes that style prevail over the substance.
The interesting aspect of the script is how the powerful elements of the script (stark, real and gritty) play out against the sensitive (tender, caring and touching) when they are juxtaposed in a single scene. Just like the emotional graphs of the individual characters of the three protagonists, their relationships with their love interests remain strongly in tune with their behaviors, with the relationship resonating the male characters more than the female ones. Lallan's relationship with his wife, physical in the truest sense of the word, alternates between animal passion and mindless brutality, reflecting Lallan's mindset. Micheal's subject in question is more domineering among the three females, allowing a glimpse of his character, through this relationship lens, as one which is encompassing and accommodating. Arjun's love interest is as heady and as trippy as Arjun, who is willing to engage in flirtatious activities with Arjun, when her marriage is already on the cards, but on the other hand, equally foolhardy and decisive when leaving everything behind and just following her heart. Equally refreshing are the dialogues (originally by Sujatha in Tamil, translated by Anurag Kashyap into Hindi) which shed off the usual staccato style of Mani Ratnam, where characters talk in spurts and cut their sentences mid way leaving up the rest to the expression to fill in the blanks. Yuva, for a change, has people talking in complete sentences, not delivering their dialogues in curt spurts, not pausing their words for their expressions, and not leaving the moment half-full. Be it the violent exchange of profanity between Lallan and his wife Sashi, or the emotional outpour to Arjun by his love interest Mira (in a brilliant performance by Kareena Kapoor), Ratnam does not mind the camera to linger on for those extra moments when the words flow by for that extra amount of time and fill up the tone of the scene completely.
The piano (joined by a female's voice) ambles gracefully till after "Hey, Khuda Hafiz" in a typical jazz fashion when it stops midway and joins heavy techno percussion when it meets the male's voice at the point when it takes off at "tum jaanO". No words could have better underlined and described the dating dalliance that transpires between Arjun and Mira. A.R.Rahman, along with Ravi Chandran (lens) and Sreekar Prasad (scissors), understands the exact tone of each of the three stories when creating three distinct sounds each for Lallan's, Micheal's and Arjun's stories. The earthy sound reflects Lallan's mood in "kabhee neem neem" and "dol dol" as something that is rustic and mercurial, while Micheal's war cry for Utopia thumps the hearts in "Dhakka Laga Bukka" (listen to the Tamil original "Jana Gana Mana" to be swept away by the sense of the music). Relegating most of the songs to the background and the judicial use of the background score (interspersed with long periods of silent backgrounds) heightens the mood the scene giving it the requisite realistic feeling. A classic case of less is more.
The minor quibbles aside, Yuva is a strong offering from Mani Ratnam, who almost pulled off a victory in the the style versus the substance war by siding with the former. Allowing himself to move away from his usual style and risking his trademark in the process, he helped Yuva join the ranks of Nayakudu and Roja as ones that can be termed true and sincere while being daring and different at the same time.