If nothing else, one can be assured of seeing the screen filled with style and pizzazz whenever Tigmanshu Dhulia decides to make a film on the Indian hinterland. We have seen him showcase reluctant dacoits, royal gangsters, hotheaded college students in films that generally carry a strong sense of brotherhood and, of course, betrayal. In 'Yaara', the recent direct-to-OTT Hindi release, Tigmanshu sticks to this template that has served him well in the past.
Although 'Yaara' begins in 1999 in a posh area of Delhi, the film travels through dusty plains, dense forests and unforgiving deserts in a narration that spans four decades. We first see the members of the brotherhood — Phagun (Vidyut Jammwal), Mitwa (Amit Sadh), Rizwan (Vijay Verma) and Bahadur (Kenny Basumatary) — as middle-aged men in their 40s. Three of them have moved on from their life of crime but Mitwa hasn’t. His re-entry after more than a decade turns their lives upside down. The various players in this action drama are introduced at a frenetic pace, which, unfortunately, is compromised later for establishing layers that are only half-baked.
We first meet the Chaukdi gang — the awesome foursome — as kids who are roped in by Chaman (Sanjay Mishra in a cameo) to work in their gang that carries out smuggling across the Indo-Nepal border. We move from the 50s to the 60s and the 70s, and each time period is established by film posters, Amitabh Bachchan imitations, the breaking news of the times, and growing insurgency in the country. While the Chaukdi gang is essentially a group of lawless people, they also follow the Hindi cinema stereotype of having hearts of gold. For every mindless murder, they save the poor from the clutches of evil rich people just to balance things out.
But their good deeds are unable to save them or the film once the Naxalite angle takes center-stage. Though this angle introduces us to Sukanya (Shruti Haasan) and her relationship with Phagun, Yaara is left to fight hard at redeeming itself after nosediving in these portions. As a separate entity, the police brutality to crush the insurgency does elicit the appropriate response of shock and rage.
However, in the grander scheme of things, these sequences only make the character arcs of the main players all the more confusing. For instance, Sukanya, a firebrand activist in her youth, is not shown to be reluctant in accepting the riches offered by a cushioned existence. In between all this, there is a betrayal of this brotherhood, and the proverbial twists in the tale are so clear from the beginning that the build-up seems laughable at best. Holding your cards too close to the chest and revealing all of them at once doesn’t bode well for a film that preferred taking it slow till then.
Although Yaara does have its share of flaws, full points to Tigmanshu for his inspired casting choices, including having Vidyut play a role that isn't just about the action scenes. The John Wick of Hindi cinema shows that he isn’t a one-trick pony. While Amit Sadh continues to play the conflicted angry young man with relative ease, Vijay Verma gets to do his best impersonation of the OG angry young man of Bollywood — Amitabh Bachchan. But more than anything, it is the casting of Shruti that takes the cake. She not only aces the dignified poise that comes with maturity but revels in the free-spiritedness of a rebel who believes justice will soon be served. It is a pity that the inconsistency in writing doesn't support the actors well enough.
When the film concentrates on the camaraderie of the Chaukdi gang, Yaara feels like a Subramaniapuram meets Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. It balances the rusticness with an uber-cool attitude. It is super fun to see trigger-happy bootleggers doing their criminal activities without a shred of conscience. However, concentrating more on the betrayal than the brotherhood feels like a misstep or rather, a betrayal worse than the one they encounter in the film.
Director: Tigmanshu Dhulia
Cast: Vidyut Jammwal, Amit Sadh, Shruti Haasan, Vijay Verma
Streaming on: Zee5