Yuva, Mani Ratnam Takes on Elections!

This is Voter Registration week in America, so the perfect week to talk about Yuva!  (yes yes, I know Aaytha Ezhuthu is better, I can’t find it, and I’ve already seen Yuva)

I already did an epic post on the history of the hyperlink film.  Where was that?  Oh right!  On my Traffic review.  Oh well, that was a while back, doesn’t hurt to have a refresher.  Here is what I said there, after first introducing Thornton Wilder’s Bridge Over San Luis Rey as the first hyperlink narrative:

In Indian film, you can point to multiple possible “hyperlink” films, but I think the greatest modern one has got to be Mani Ratnam’s Yuva/Aaytha Ezhuthu.  Which, in a nod to Thorton Wilder’s novel, was originally supposed to be called Howrah Bridge, and which uses the same opening of a massive event taking place on a bridge and then going back and watching how all the characters reached that point.  I mean, I know Howrah Bridge is like THE symbol of Calcutta, but he didn’t have to use it exactly this way.  Or even set the film in Calcutta and thereby reasonably use a Bridge scene as his opener.

So, Mani Ratnam wanted to do a hyperlink film! His films are always similar to but distinctly different from a hyperlink narrative.  They are similar in that he tends to follow multiple sides of the same story, that all come together in the end.  Look at something like Kannathil Muthamittal, which starts in Sri Lanka, then moves to Madras, then goes back in time to show how the two were connected, then back to the present where they become connected again.  Or Alaipayuthay, in which a dramatic 24 hour period in present brings up memories of the past and the two storylines move forward together, which was tweaked slightly in Kaatru Veliyidai to show a long period in the present when time seemed to stand still and allow for reflection on a similarly long period in the past.  Alaipayuthay might come closest to a hyperlink film, two otherwise unrelated storylines connected by one moment in time.  But that is just a small dusting on top of the greater structure which is a series of flashbacks with a present day framing device.

Ratnam likes investigating people and situations from every perspective.  He rejects the simple answer.  And he confirms that we are all, in some way, connected to each other.  And so all of his films have some hyperlink elements, some incident that is scene from multiple aspects, some surprising coincidental relationship.  But it is not the innate structure of the film, everything expanding out from one coincidental moment of connection in the way that this film expands.

The Hindi title means “youth”, which is close enough, it is about the things that all 6 leads have in common merely by being youthful.  But the Tamil title is clearer, it means “3 dots”.  That is what the film is about, 3 small people moving through the world on a collusion course.  Two collision courses happening at the same place at two different points in time.

And that’s also why it is about elections!!!!  Elections are an amazing moment of forces colliding.  The good and the bad, the youth and the entrenched powers, all of society focused on one moment of potential change.


This film is about 3 men, and the 3 women who love them.  It feels kind of awkward in the description, the way the love stories are included with these story of politics and power.  But then, love is power, in a way, and the way these men interact with “their” women tells us something about them and how they see power over others.

Abhishek and Rani’s love story is the one you remember most from this film.  It is deepest and rawest and most powerful.  Ajay and Viviek, they almost seem to forget their love interests for long periods of time.  But ultimately it is this half-remembered love that is healthier, better for both of them.

Abhishek cannot let Rani go and she cannot escape from him.  In our first moment of them together, we see him recently released from jail, tracking her down at her family home and forcing her to come with him through the power of her love for him.  Despite her family’s protestations.  And then we see their passionate happiness together, the way he can be all wrapped up in her and vice versa.  The trouble comes when they are separated.

All three of our heroes go through periods of separation from their love.  Ajay and Esha Deol are a longtime couple, without their parents knowledge.  Esha has just returned from studying out of town, but clearly their time away has made no difference in how they feel for each other.  Their reunion is joyous and happy, secret not because they are ashamed but because they want it that way.  And when it is no longer convenient to keep their relationship secret, Esha confidently moves into his home, declaring her right to be there to his mother and holding firm to her place even when Ajay is not there.  They love each other, but they also have lives apart from each other, strength apart from each other.

Viviek and Kareena are the new loves.  Planning to be separated, planning that they will spend this time together and then separate, him to go to America and her to be married.  But the film opens with Viviek’s realization that he cannot be separated from her, a romantic desire to chase after her leads to him hitching a ride on Ajay’s bike, and therefore being involved in the accident when Abhishek attacks Ajay.  And setting Viviek’s love on a new path as well, instead of a passionate chase of the woman he has just realized he loves, now he is suddenly re-directed to thinking about what he wants of his own life, independent of her.  What he wants of himself, outside of his love story.  And when they are reunited we learn she went on a similar journey, deciding for herself that she did not want to marry her fiance, she wanted something else.

This is good leadership, letting go.  Trust.  Faith.  Understanding.  And caring.  Viviek and Ajay do not think of their loves at every moment, but they also do not hurt them.  Abhishek disappears from Rani’s life to go into hiding after the bridge accident, leaving her scared and alone.  She chooses to end her pregnancy, afraid of what will happen to her without anyone to support her.  And when Abhishek re-appears, he blames her and attacks her for that, the thing that he himself drove her to.  Abhishek loves her, but he has no ability to understand her, or to put her needs above his own.  This is corrupted leadership, the kind of power that can convince you everything you are doing is correct and everything bad that happens is someone else’s fault, that everything should always be under your control.

And so these 6 people and their interlinked stories build a picture of a wider society and the reasons corrupt power flourishes until someone stands up to it and ends it.  Ajay is the first, son of a dead radical, dedicating himself to building up his own political coalition among the young college students of the city.  He inspires others, Viviek the upperclass kid who planned to leave India altogether or only serve it as a high paid government bureaucrat, inspired by the random meeting on a bridge to join Ajay’s crusade and stand for office himself.  And he destroys Abhishek, their corrupt mirror, the other young and in love man with his whole future ahead of him who has chosen to take the easy route, not to think for himself or try to see the larger picture but to let others do his thinking for him.  The “three dots” of the Tamil title who move around each other.

But the Hindi title,”Yuva”, “Youth”, that is there too.  There is a fearlessness to youth.  That is what this film is calling for.  To stand up to tyranny, to fight injustice fearlessly, to make change by simply doing it.  Whether that change is a woman setting aside her marriage vows to escape her abusive husband, or a college student running for and winning a seat in parliament.

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