Everyone has an off day, I guess. Respected filmmakers are no exception.
Having seen writer-director-producer Tigmanshu Dhulia's earlier works, most especially Haasil, Saheb Biwi aur Gangster 1 and 2 and Paan Singh Tomar, it is hard to believe that he also made this film. There is no denying though that Yaara - flimsy of script and fleeting in effect - is Dhulia's latest venture.
Shifting back and forth in time, Yaara begins with a party at a swish house in 1990s Delhi where we meet Phagun (played by Vidyut Jammwal), Rizwan (Vijay Varma) and Bahadur (Kenny Basumatary). The trio are reformed outlaws whose turbulent youth was squandered on criminal activities and clashes with the police. The return of their old friend and accomplice Mitwa (Amit Sadh) sends their lives back into a spiral from which it appears there is no escape.
From the '90s, the narrative heads off to 1950s Rajasthan where the four met as children. An early reference to caste atrocities pushing members of marginalised communities into crime holds out some promise at this point - after all, at his best, Dhulia has offered audiences a bird's eye view of some of India's grimmest social realities. That promise, however, is left unfulfilled in Yaara.
The story touches upon caste and class exploitation, Naxalism, sexual violence and state oppression, but that touch is so feather light, the characterisation so shallow, the plotline so generic and the direction so unenthused that nothing and no one leaves a lasting impression
Yaara's lack of commitment to itself is perhaps best illustrated by the stylised filming of the romantic number 'Bhedi' for which Shruti Haasan, playing an underground Communist revolutionary operating in the hinterland, poses around in designer gowns with Jammwal's Phagun in the tradition of ultra-glamourised heroines in Bollywood musical set pieces like 'Tanha Tanha' from Rangeela, 'Tu Jaane Na' from Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani and 'Gerua' from Dilwale. This once-interesting Bollywood motif has not just become tired now from over-use by formulaic filmmakers, it is incongruous and laughable here in Yaara considering the circumstances in which it is employed.
The shooting of another song, 'Beparvah,' is borrowed from the likes of Dil Chahta Hai's title track and 'Meethi Boliyaan' from Kai Po Che! (though the colour scheme and the communal shirtlessness of Phagun & Co reminded me more of the latter). Yaara's songs are actually nice, so is the cinematography, but what is the point?
It seems unfair to judge the cast by this film - to be fair to them, to the extent that it is possible, they acquit themselves well enough. The wafer-thin characterisation of Phagun, Rizwan and Mitwa is nothing compared to the injustice done to Basumatary's character Bahadur of whom the only thing one learns through the course of the entire film is that he is Nepalese. It is almost as if he is included as an act of tokenism because someone on the team said, "Let's play diversity-diversity."
Yaara is a remake of the 2011 French film Les Lyonnais aka A Gang Story about which one critic said, it has "just too many moments of deja vu". The description fits the Bollywood version just as well. The minute I wrap up this review, I intend to forget that Tigmanshu Dhulia made Yaara and remind myself instead of the best that he has been. Everyone has an off day, I guess. Hota hai.
Yaara is streaming on ZEE5.