By Subhash K. Jha, Bollywood Hungama News Network
Cello, yeh film chalegi. How tender is the night when the stars shimmer down in a camera-reflected glory! Subhash Ghai's loveliest film in years has a symphonic texture, feel and movement to it.
From the opening shots of Katrina Kaif labouring lusciously over the cello to the near-closing montage when Boman Irani, playing a zany surgeon, hops skips and jumps in the hospital corridor to announce the hero's recovery, Yuvvraaj constantly reworks old themes such as family ties and unequal love-matches, to suit a new climate and clientele. It says it's okay to want money. But it's not okay to sacrifice family for funds. The palate is passionate. The look feel and flavour of the presentation are near-exquisite. Subhash Ghai's hard-earned reputation as a showman is on show here with shimmering austerity. Less is constantly more in Yuvvraaj. The story of three wealthy brothers battling for the billions after their tycoon Babuji's death cannot be entirely exonerated of excesses. The supporting characters of ghoulish wealth-diggers and cleavage-revealing sirens seem straight of Ghai's Ram Lakhan and Trimurti.
But all said and done there's a delicacy to the narration that most cinema today is unable to achieve. Yuvvraaj is not a film in a hurry. Though the pacing is even and stable and feelings are frequently created out of the background score, it seldom gets cumbersome to watch.
Cinematographer Kabir Lal and art designer Oomang Kumar make sure our interest level in the incidents in the Yuvvraaj family never flags. The performances are frequently charming and at times intriguing in their shadowy suggestions. The writer, played by Aushima Sawhney flits in and out with stealth and grace serving as both narrator and equalizer in this tumultuous tale of greed and redemption. And that kid Bala who plays our autistic hero Anil Kapoor's loyal friend. He seldom speaks and remains an innocent mute spectator to the self-serving avarice of the rest of the characters.
After over-the-top performances in some hideous comedies, Anil Kapoor is in full form as a psychologically impaired musical genius. The character's vulnerability and lack of man-made manoeuvrings are expressed in the tenderest heart-melting expressions of a mind that doesn't understand money materialism and manipulation. Kapoor holds the film and its loose ends together and serves as a reference point for this morality tale of our times.
Lower down the cast, Zayed Khan as his kid brother pumps in the right amount of hedonistic confusion into his spoilt-rick brat's act. But clearly the double stars of the show are A R Rahman's music and Gulzar's lyrics. Blending into the supremely - mellow fabric of Ghai's culturally-contradictory characters' chaotic inner worlds, the music blends symphonic elements into a big large epic desi sound. The songs and music often echo the characters' inner worlds.
Seamless in its splendid synthesis of feelings and sounds, and avoiding over-punctation except in the eye-catching Broadway-like broad and bubbly choreography, Yuvvraaj catches the characters' inner world in a state of reposeful grace.
The excesses, when they occur, are often doubly embarrassing because of the film's continually fine structure and style. Often as the narration take steep cultural swerves from Prague to Austria to London, Ghai puts in interior sequences on badly-done-up sets that intrude on the narration's streamlined motivations.
It's not often that we come across a film where the written word is replicated by the visuals. Yuvvraaj allows us a view into troubled and torn characters' souls. The beauty of its presentation is in its high level of aesthetics that frequently appear in unexpected areas of emphatic cinematic expression.
Some moments such as the one where Anil Kapoor sings publicly for the first time are heartstopping in their sensitivity. At times, Subhash Ghai loses a grip over the narration, especially when some of the actors choose to do their own thing rather than remain in character. But let's not quibble. There's so much in Yuvvraaj to be thankful for. The splendour of the locales never overpowers the characters' right to be where they are.
As in Pardes and the underrated Yaadein, Subhash Ghai questions joint-family values and the rapidly-changing equations in modern times. At one point in the later-half Zayed's character can't look at itself in the mirror.
While pricking our collective conscience, Yuvvraaj rarely throws up a moment when we can't look Ghai's vision straight in the eye. He knows his craft only too well. And how to keep the characters within a morally-correct range of vision without making them look caricatural.
Yuvvraaj is among the finest films of 2008.