Cast: Mammootty, Suhasini, Mahesh Achanta
Director: Mahi V Raghav
Biopics are the flavour of the season, for there’s at least one movie from the genre that’s hitting theatres month after month in each of the major Indian film industries. Yatra, the latest one from the Telugu land, follows YS Rajasekhara Reddy’s (played by Mammootty) walking tour across the then undivided Andhra Pradesh. The events and memories aren’t as recent as the 2016 Uri attack, but the overall incidents behind the Congress Party winning an unprecedented majority in the 2004 election are depicted with great fervor and poise.
While the opening scene in last month’s release, N.T.R: Kathanayakudu, had Balakrishna (starring as his father NT Rama Rao) dole out messages about women empowerment, Rajasekhara, in today’s Yatra, lends his support to his nemesis’ daughter. That character establishment scene has limited dialogues – unlike Kathanayakudu – and it mostly rests on Mammootty’s controlled head-and-hand gestures.
Chiranjeevi would have obviously been a better choice to star as the politician, but, I reckon, his brush with politics may have stopped him from turning into a leader of the masses for a movie. Mammootty approaches his character with much caution. His Telugu is a bit affected. I’m not saying he mispronounces the words; he has gone a great distance to capture the essence of every spoken word, and, therein lies the fault. He mouths them as though it’s literature. The catchphrase he uses, “Nenu vinnanu, nenu unnanu, (I’ve heard you, I’ll be there for you)” would have easily turned into an anthem if a top Telugu film actor had said it.
That said, when was the last time a star from Telugu cinema had burdened himself with a movie that didn’t play to the gallery? Mammootty, for that matter, does a fine job in bringing YSR back to life, at least in spirit, if not in his true nature.
Mahi V Raghav’s film isn’t free of enemies. For starters, he shows how YSR doesn’t wait for the high command to give him a green signal. When he’s told to follow certain procedures as he belongs to a national party, YSR simply smiles. He knows that he won’t get any support from his fellow members, or seniors, so he goes ahead with his original plans instead. “Don’t mistake my loyalty for my weakness,” he utters somewhere else calmly. Mammootty’s brilliance shines through in such tenderly written exchanges.
The cracks within the party emerge even as he begins a long journey in search of people’s woes. On the other side, members from the then ruling party – Telugu Desam Party is rechristened Mana Desam to avoid controversies – make alternative plans to keep their ambitions afloat. If one character praises YSR’s political wizardry, another character looks down upon him for resorting to gimmicks. These locker room talks happen in the Congress Party too, and they’re not any bolder than what we’ve seen on television debates.
Allegations of murder that weigh heavily on YSR’s shoulders are brushed under the carpet, and since the movie doesn’t track his rise to the top position from the start, it only allows us to view his life from afar. We don’t know how he became the leader of the Opposition Party. And every major character he meets on his way teaches him a lesson or two. There’s a disgruntled farmer who attempts to kill himself as he’s asked to sell his tomatoes for Re. 1 a kilogram; there’s a young mother who’s ready to sell her older daughter so she can pay for her younger daughter’s heart surgery; there’s a group of old women that are waiting for their promised-but-not-delivered pensions.
Mahi’s YSR doesn’t shed tears despite listening to sad stories and witnessing sadder after-effects. YSR is more interested in finding a larger solution to the state’s problems. And with N.T.R: Mahanayakudu set to release later this month, it’d be interesting to see how the different paths of the undivided Andhra Pradesh’s political agenda crisscross.
Yatra may not tick all the boxes of a well-made biopic, but it’ll stay as a cinematic account for future politicians to take notes from.