Director: Santhosh Ananddram
Cast: Puneeth Rajkumar, Sayyeshaa, Prakash Raj, Achyuth Kumar
Before Puneeth Rajkumar’s character is introduced in Yuvarathnaa, a little build-up segment opens up like a ripe fruit. It’s a standard template that involves an extra running towards another extra with his tail between his legs and announcing that their plans to threaten some people (students, in this case) have failed due to the arrival of a new hero in town. This introduction scene is designed to cater to the fans of the star mainly. But it surreptitiously sends shivers down the spines of the thugs, too. It works both ways.
The juiciest bit of this entire stretch is the huli vesha (tiger dance) that pops up right after the hero puts his enemies down and not the action scene per se. Again, it’s a celebratory piece of entertainment that plays to the gallery.
In Raajakumara, also directed by Santhosh Ananddram, the conflict point of the story shows up almost after an hour and a half into the movie. In Yuvarathnaa, it appears in the prologue itself. When tragedy strikes at a government college, the benevolent Principal, Gurudev Deshmukh (Prakash Raj), takes it to heart. He gathers his current and former students to right a wrong. Though his anger isn’t directly countered by the apathy of the government, you can feel the burden on his tired shoulders. The credit should obviously go to Raj, for he keeps darting his eyes across the board of human emotions.
Deshmukh seems to have dedicated his life to helping his pupils find their path. His former students work in different fields now and some of them even draw government salaries. I’ve often wondered about young women and men routinely moving to foreign nations or bagging plush jobs in metropolitan cities. Does this phenomenon affect teachers as they continue to toil away at their jobs at their own pace? Of course, teaching is also a plush job in numerous places. But it comes with a caveat. Sometimes, it comes with several caveats and it depends on the kinds of people and infrastructure they are left to deal with.
It turns out that not all teachers are wired that way. Many of them, in fact, fill their chests with pride when they hear stories about the achievements scored by their students. Deshmukh is one such Principal who finds meaning in the art of teaching. He often cranes his neck to scan the faces adorning the “Wall of Fame” in his college. You can find the portraits of famous actors, writers, public intellectuals, and sportspersons there.
Arjun (Puneeth Rajkumar) makes another entry, albeit in the college that the movie is set in, this time. He learns that there are illegal activities taking place in Deshmukh’s absence and tries to come up with a bunch of plans to stop them. When a senior asks Arjun if he has watched Om (1995) in order to intimidate him, the latter replies, “Naave produce maadiddu (We were the ones who produced the movie).” It’s a tongue-in-cheek comeback that blurs the lines between the actor and the character he’s playing. That line has the same energy as, “If you think you are bad, I’m your dad.”
Om is a movie about rowdies obviously and Arjun is subtly telling him that he’s a bigger ruffian. Elsewhere, however, such references to his family, or his brother, don’t work. They come across as repetitive and mundane.
Yuvarathnaa is at least ten leaps ahead of Raajakumara in terms of scale and aspiration. And these factors naturally bleed into the execution, as well. If the trailer had not given any hints regarding Arjun’s undercover operation, it would have given Ananddram some more room to stage his drama as a thriller. Why would the hero need to have a double-identity when we already know that he’s not who he claims to be?
Strangely, Yuvarathnaa has a connection to the Tamil movie Master, which was released a few months ago. The stars in both these movies go out of their comfort zones to talk about the importance of education. While Master focuses on juvenile delinquents, this film trains its spotlight on students who go to government colleges. In a series of fortunate events, a recurring theme that involves unconventional methods of teaching (think of Dead Poets Society, 1989) pours energy into the proceedings – a professor goes to different places along with a blackboard to teach his students. This is exactly what Master couldn’t do after a point.
Yuvarathnaa is not great by any record, but it manages to pass the test. It keeps the action alive even after it runs out of surprises to throw. Sayyeshaa, as Arjun’s love interest, has a very minor role to play and so do the others (Dhananjay, Diganth, Rangayana Raghu, Achyuth Kumar, and Sai Kumar), but they all come together as the members of a party for a star vehicle. They are the supporting cast who end up fitting the bill perfectly.