Mahi Raghav’s Yatra starts with the daughter of a leader asking Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy (Mammootty) for protection from her dad’s assassins. Everyone is surprised because YSR goes to the extent of opposing his own party to support her, despite her father being against YSR. His logic – if a woman comes to you for help, will you play politics? That is the tone of the movie and that is how it stays until the very end.
Mammootty looms large over this YSR tribute which has just one agenda – to celebrate YSR’s much-admired Padayatra through the state. The movie is entirely made to celebrate how YSR turned the tables against a powerful ruling party despite the lack of resources, or strong support from the party high-command. As a movie, there isn’t much to critique, largely because Yatra treats YSR’s story from just one lens – that of a true admirer and sympathiser.
Everything is black and white. All politicians and parties other than YSR are indifferent to the plight of the common man or are busy chasing power. The movie doesn’t spare even the party YSR brought back into power, through sheer will power and principles. There is a cameo by Suhasini Maniratnam as Sabitha Indra Reddy (the famed leader who occupied a place in YSR’s cabinet) and a cameo by Jagapathi Babu who sows the seeds in a young YSR’s mind – a doctor or engineer can serve thousands or lakhs but a good politician can serve crores.
The movie is a collection of YSR anecdotes. That one time when a constable has to accept a bribe to send his son to engineering college, or that one time when his car breaks down in the middle of a village and he realises they have too many problems or that time when he dines at an old woman’s house and understands that pensions aren’t available to the senior citizens. There is the farmer who becomes the backbone of YSR’s election campaign.
All through the movie, we see the man standing true to his principles and doing things ‘for the people’, without greed for power or for the chair. In a way, the documentary-style narrative allows nothing other than Mammootty to occupy every frame, and it seems to be deliberate. Only Rao Ramesh, as KVP, who YSR treats as his soul, gets screen space other than him.
Yatra depicts, for more than an hour, tales of YSR walking into villages, protesting for the farmers, and gaining insights into the issues that plague the hinterlands. It ends with real footage from YSR’s life, something that would have tugged at the heartstrings of YSR’s devotees, if one may use the word.
While the movie chooses to showcase the emotional side of YSR, the man of principles who cared, it doesn’t do any justice to YSR’s intellectual acumen. He is barely seen discussing political issues, barely speaks about ideologies and budgets and how he plans to manage the massive debt the state would incur if he has to implement his schemes. A meek ‘will we not borrow money even if a loved one needs treatment’ is all Mammootty gets to mouth. The late, honourable YSR was smarter than that, for sure.
Yatra cannot be called an out-and-out biopic, for it barely shows how YSR, one of the most popular political leaders the state has ever seen, was moulded as a person. It is a fascinating story and yet, nothing of it appeared on screen. He is already a formed man, humble, caring, and respectful towards the elderly, hated by some of his more ambitious party-men.
Mahi Raghav also chooses a rather drab style of taking shots and camera work, with barely any symbolism or innuendos. The cinematography doesn't indulge in experimentation, colour coding or even metaphorical frames. While it is understood, that the movie wasn’t meant to have commercial elements, there was ample opportunity for a couple of soul-stirring tracks. The movie-makers missed a trick there, for sure.
All in all, Yatra doesnt miss an opportunity to elevate a political leader, much loved by the people. Mammootty brings YSR alive. So natural is his body language that it is hard to even remember that YSR did look different from the actor being portrayed on screen. From body language to gestures and understated expressions, Mammootty portrays a fearless, but compassionate, almost sagely YSR. I guess YSR's fans will be happy with this eulogy of a movie that extols every virtue of the late leader! Others, not so much.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.