The easiest thing in the world is to sneer at someone who attempts to be unconventional through conventional routes. In that sense master-creator Mani Ratnam and Michael Mukherjee, his protagonist in Yuva, share the same predicament. Like Ajay Devgan’s fascinating character who wants to bring about a change in the social order Mani Rathnam’s cinema signifies tremendous leaps in the way we perceive popular entertainment in this country.

A riveting blend of social message and entertainment is what sets Yuva apart. Like Ratnam’s first Hindi film Dil Se, Yuva is an extremely restless film about young characters who are on the look-out for a relevance to their existence . While Michael wants to use student power to change the festering fortunes of Indian politics, the loutish Lallan(Abhishek Bachchan) just wants a decent life for his wife(Rani Mukherjee) and himself, and never mind if it’s through indecent means.

The third and most blithe-spirited protagonist Arjun(Vivek Oberoi) is a commitment-phobic selfseeking wannabe whose plans of making millions in the US go phut when he mets the mesmerizing girl next door Meera(Kareena Kapoor)

Each protagonist extends a fidgety power into the narrative. Among the many absorbing facets to Mani Ratnam’s storytelling, is the way he uses time passages in the lives of the various characters and the delightfully inventive modes of plotting whereby different perceptions are projected simultaneously into the various characters’ line of vision . These are proof of a mind that creates cinema through literary devices.

You can almost read between the lines that Mani Rathnam crosses from one protagonist’s life into another. The effect is of seawaves lapping against the shore and receding to leave behind tempting tides of significances .

The 3-tiered plot creates a sense of louring lyricism in the plot. Every character fits in the Kolkata milieu without stretching to cohere in the larger picture. Yet, the existence of the binding cosmic force that keeps Mani’s world and the world beyond his creation ,looms large over the narrative.

The gangster Lallan and his volatile blow-hot-blow-cold relationship with his wife Shashi(Rani Mukherjee) echoes Manoj Bajpai and Shefali Chhaya’s tempestuous rapport in Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya. But beyond that echo of familiarity is an aching originality contouring every frame, nurturing the characters through a remarkable process of selfdiscovery.

Unlike Dil Se whose narrative couldn’t really hold the audiences, Yuva keeps us glued to the goings-on till the very end, not because it tells a remarkably original story but because characters whom we’ve probably encountered in numerous other flicks come alive here as curvaceously complete characters, full of little gestures and understated personality traits that we may miss at first.

Yuva is like a visit to a strange and warm tropical island . At first the sights and sounds may appear too familiar for excitement. But every shrub and every rock hides a new experience. It’s that subterranean experience that Yuva brings to the surface in pelting layers of insightful narration.

Rathnam goes from one level of characterization to another, weaving in and out of three lives without creating autonomous selfcontained world for each protagonist. The men who tower over the plot are also the tools in the hands of destiny. This simultaneity between chance and deliberation is sustained throughout.

More than a film about ideas (so well conceived and executed you wonder why didn’t any other filmmaker think of it!) Yuva is a walloping entertainer. It’s simply impossible to forget the three protagonists and their mesh of karmic adventures. The romantic side to the political parable about a student leader, a hit-man and a drifter is brought out so sharply in so little space, you wonder if economy of expression is Mani ‘s mainstay as a master raconteur.

As in all his earlier masterpieces including the dark and moody Dil Se and Kannattil Muttamittal Mani Rathnam stuns us with his aesthentic and creative motivations. We simply cannot take our eyes off a single frame without losing out on a strand of whispering relevance , or perhaps something far more valuable would slip out of our hands if we blink . We really don’t know…but we want to!

That intangible essence of life bathes Yuva in a dusky light, creating an atmosphere of absolute enchantment. To speak on the technical skills that have gone into Ratnam’s new mega-entertainer would be going into obvious areas of praise . But yes, Ravi K. Chandran’s cinematography and Sabu Cyril’s art work create a separate look for each of the protagonist’s story.

And now for the performances, so crucial to this character-driven film that any wrong major or minor casting could have ruined the symphony of surcharged emotions that hover over the frames in perched delicacy.

Every performance is unputdownable…concrete yet ambivalent. Footage-wise Ajay Devgan leads the cast, bringing a certain maturity and mellowness in a narrative idiom where tempers and passions run perpetually high. Vivek as the jaunty dude is bright and dead-on . He happily complements and buffers Devgan’s idealism and Abhishek’s amorality .

But the film belongs to Abhishek Bachchan. As the impetuous hit-man who loves his wife to death Abhishek’s eyes and smile rattle us with their sincerity. His Lallan is obnoxious and violent, and yet never anything but a child of an obnoxious and violent social order. This films marks the coming of age of the actor.

In spite of limited footage , the 3 girls succeed in making a lasting impact. Kareena’s role is specially fey and insubstantial. She turns these character traits to her own advantage to create a girl who’s at once enigmatic and all-there—a bit like the film itself which is both mysterious and voluptuous.

A R Rahman’s music comes alive on screen creating lashing licks of luscious beats for the characters to chew on. The stunts by Vikram Dharma involving the skidding Kolkatan traffic on the Howrah bridge are heart-in-the-mouth stuff.

A word on Mani Ratnam’s love-making sequences. Why do all the three protagonists pick up their women in an identical way to embrace them tightly? Is this the director’s way of telling us that when it comes to matters of the heart and sex, all men are the same?

Or are we imagining too much in a casual embrace?