Decoding Aayutha Ezhuthu and Yuva: Why are they consummate Mani Ratnam films and also anomalies

The movies bring together three distinctive worlds, characters, and romances with a highly complex-for-its-time narrative.

BySwaroop Kodur

Published Jun 02, 2024 | 11:30 AMUpdatedJun 02, 2024 | 6:18 PM

Decoding Mani Ratnam's Aaytha Ezhuthu and Yuva

Mani Ratnam is a filmmaker with many hallmarks. It doesn’t take more than a very specific movement of the camera, a show of a delicate expression by an actor, or a crafty use of music to gather that he is at play.

And if one has ever sampled his work, they are likely to recognise the traits of a Mani Ratnam film with ease, whether they take to it or discard it for whatever suitable reason.

That is to say that the filmmaker, 67, is hard to pass up and his penchant to be relevant, to explore and to experiment could be the main reason behind that.

One such endeavour of his is the 2004 film Aayutha Ezhuthu, which was simultaneously made and released in Hindi as Yuva. Mani Ratnam co-wrote(with Sujatha in Tamil and Anurag Kashyap (for dialogues) in Hindi, and directed both versions.

Aayutha Ezhuthu and Yuva are still regarded as two of his most daring attempts to date. They bring together three distinctive worlds, characters, and romances with a highly complex-for-its-time narrative.

But for many, the first viewing of the film(s) has emerged to be an unconventional experience; while they knew they were watching something special, not everything was grasped or appreciated instantly.

Both Aayutha Ezhuthu and Yuva won Mani Ratnam his usual critical praise with the screenplay, AR Rahman’s music, and the central performances being highlighted.

But the films did not receive the theatrical applause that the filmmaker is used to or would have liked, with only the Tamil version said to have done above-average business at the time.

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Mani Ratnam takes a path less trodden

A collage of stills from Aayutha Ezhuthu

A collage of stills from ‘Aayutha Ezhuthu’. (X)

It’s fascinating nevertheless to see how Aayutha Ezhuthu (and Yuva) has aged over the years.

One often hears from keen-eyed cineastes, just as in the case of most Mani Ratnam films, about discovering something new about the film with each survey and then gladly changing the initial opinion.

Some prefer the Tamil iteration more than the Hindi one and vice-versa, while a section of the film enthusiasts have handpicked moments that they have found to be memorable.

Aayutha Ezhuthu gets its share of criticism too, for the filmmaker’s trademarks are a little too apparent in the film for some.

In his 41-years-and-counting long career, Mani Ratnam has attempted myriad subjects that range from marital dramas, gangster sagas, and political thrillers to urban love stories. But there’s a prominent stamp of his worldview, his flair, and his touch on each of them.

Aayutha Ezhuthu is no different but where the filmmaker goes slightly left-field in this case is with a narrative structure that lends it a different syntax and shape.

“Mani liked how films like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Amores Perros (2000) were structured. It isn’t easy to employ something like that in our films but he is someone who takes two steps forward,” shares prominent film journalist and critic S Shiva Kumar.

The journo adds that though Aayutha Ezhuthu isn’t top-drawer Mani Ratnam for him, the film still stands apart for him for the way the stories are interwoven in the narrative.

“You discover so many new things when you watch it again and try to study it – how he cast mainstream stars of the time in unusual roles, the use of three colour palettes (red, green, and blue) for each segment, and so on,” notes film writer-critic Vishal Menon.

Vishal, too, isn’t a huge fan of this film as much as he is of some of the other Mani Ratnam titles.

But he feels that the timing of Aayutha Ezhuthu and Yuva is also vital in understanding just how ahead of its time it was.

“When Nayakan came in 1987, you could assume that very few people in India had watched Godfather (1972) at the time. Similarly, when Amores Perros came in 2000, the Indian audiences weren’t trained or familiar with this slightly tricky narrative structure; in essence, Mani Ratnam made a film in a pre-torrents, pre-internet era and that’s what is special about it,” adds Vishal Menon.

Also Read: When Mani Ratnam was served food and Suhasini wasn’t

A series of firsts

The three stories in Aayutha Ezhuthu correspond individually to three different strata of society, juxtaposed to highlight the conditioned choices that young India made at the time and probably still makes.

Born in the trenches, Inba (Madhavan) has grown up to become a violent hitman for a politician and his wife Sashi (Meera Jasmine) desperately wants him to change his ways.

Michael (Suriya), a middle-class college student, is treading his late father’s path of a social crusader and while he has the support of his girlfriend Geethanjali (Esha Deol), his mother fears the worst for him.

On the sets of yuva

On the sets of ‘Yuva’. (X)

Arjun (Siddharth), a carefree young man, has his eyes firmly set on a plush US job until a girl (Trisha as Meera) enters his life and compels him to reset his priorities.

An unceremonious event then brings all these lives and a few more together.

“Two of the three segments in the film are pure Mani but the one featuring Madhavan and Meera Jasmine is something that he had not ventured into till then,” opines S Shiva Kumar.

The same segment (Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee playing those parts in Yuva) is often highlighted whenever a discussion about the film crops up.

It’s so because many did not expect Madhavan, the undisputed boy-next-door of Tamil cinema at the time, to drop guard so effortlessly and become the boorish, abusive, and foul-mouthed Inbasekar to a great effect.

It is this very character that also reveals that Mani Ratnam was truly chasing something new with Aayutha Ezhuthu and Yuva.

A Mani Ratnam “hero” is a known entity—he is affable, charming, and chivalrous at most times but is also prone to carry some angst and emotional baggage.

Both Michael and Arjun belong to this bracket without a doubt but Inba is a different beast of its kind. He is reprehensible from the get-go and while one spots a soft, mushy core in him in certain key moments, the character remains almost irredeemable till the very end.

And no other Mani Ratnam protagonist has been dealt with that way both before and since then.

Another extremely important facet of the film is AR Rahman’s music and S Shiva Kumar agrees that even by the Mani-ARR standards, the soundtrack of Aayutha Ezhuthu is exceptional and also experimental.

“The thought that Rahman’s music grows on you with each listening, that it takes time to settle in. It all probably began with Aayutha Ezhuthu or Yuva,” says Vishal Menon, in the same vein.

The soundtrack includes a blend of genres ranging from EDM in Fanaa and bass-guitar-riffs in “Jana Gana Mana“/”Dhakka Laga Bukka” to a soothing, semi-classical melody like “Sandakkozhi“/”Kabhi Neem Neem“.

“It took me a while to understand a song like Hey Goodbye Nanba/Hey Khuda Hafiz because it has so many layers to it,” adds Vishal.

Not to forget the background score of the film, which has its separate legion of fans.

Also Read: ‘Aadujeevitham’ is an amazing movie: Mani Ratnam

Sticking to the comfort zone

All experiments aside, Aayutha Ezhuthu is still a quintessential Mani Ratnam rumination that boasts many of his trademarks.

Take the fact that each segment in the film is guided by a love story which happens to be his strongest suit, especially the ones set in the urban milieu.

The film could well be a companion piece of filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s underrated masterpiece Three Times (2005) because both films explore love from three different perspectives by placing their characters in three different situations.

Madhavan and Meera Jasmine

Madhavan and Meera Jasmine in ‘Aayutha Ezhuthu’. (X)

While the Taiwanese film employs three different timelines to make its point, the love stories of Aayutha Ezhuthu unfold in tandem and each comes with a unique shade.

If Inba and Sashi are animalistic and almost toxic about their ways, Michael and Geethanjali are urban but also a tad old-school in how they treat their relationship.

Arjun and Meera’s 21st-century story serves as a prologue, if you will, to Mani Ratnam’s own OK Kanmani (2015) because the characters come with a kind of no-strings-attached policy that was yet to seep into the Indian culture.

If Sashi is forbidden by her parents from being with Inba and is forced to go against their word, Arjun and Meera seldom refer to their parents’ or elders’ approval because the drama lies between only two individuals here.

Michael and Geethanjali reside somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, forming a bridge between the two other templates of a Mani Ratnam romance.

But all said and done, one wonders where Aayutuha Ezhuthu and Yuva rank in the tall repertoire of the master craftsman.

“People have almost forgotten that he has made that film,” quips Vishal Menon to suggest that Mani Ratnam’s other titles like Nayakan, Alaipayuthey (2000), and even his unsuccessful ventures like Raavanan (2010) and Kadal (2013) remain fresh in the memory of the audience, whereas this potentially sticks out as an anomaly of sorts in this discussion.

The film’s experimental, unyielding side could have alienated a few while, the overuse of the filmmaker’s tropes could have dismayed others—regardless if one.

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