Yatra 2 is a better attempt at a propaganda film than Yatra, but is that alone enough? asks Srivathsan Nadadhur
Andhra Pradesh loses its two-time chief minister Y S Rajasekhar Reddy to a tragic helicopter crash. His son, Jagan Mohan Reddy, embarks on an ‘odarpu yatra’ to pacify his father’s dejected followers. Despite claiming that the yatra has no political connection, ‘Progress’ party chief asks Jagan to abandon the tour at once. Jagan parts ways with the party in a bid to carry forward his father’s legacy.
There’s no denying that Mahi V Raghav’s Yatra was a propaganda film attempting to whitewash YS Rajasekhar Reddy’s political legacy. Yet, in terms of cinematic merit, it was interestingly structured as a road film and was reasonably successful in capturing the leader’s populist appeal through a brief episode in his life. Yatra 2 tells the story of his son, whose political life too is packed with dense drama.
If Yatra was a people-centric story as much as a leader’s journey, Yatra 2 is a personal tale, documenting Jagan’s rise to power. The film tries to understand the circumstances that forced Jagan to exit the Congress party and establish YSRCP. How does he rise above the shadow of a charismatic father, overcoming allegations of corruption and strong political competition to succeed?
Propaganda films have always been selective in portraying real-life events that suit the narrative they aim to sell. Yatra 2 too doesn’t hide its political colours, but there’s also an earnest effort to deliver a cinematically engaging experience. The film relies on passive heroism to establish the high points in Jagan’s political career – it’s always the external forces that push him to make crucial decisions.
Yatra 2, without resorting to verbal pompousness, restricts its scope to the story of a son following the footsteps of a father. Much like it’s prequel, the film consistently portrays how a national party, singularly ruled by an arrogant leader, clips the wings of the protagonist’s family. Jagan is portrayed as an epitome of resilience, a ‘victim of circumstances’ and can do no wrong.
The narrative is smart; it never portrays Jagan’s political ambitions verbally and instead uses a denial tone. His growth is stunted in a party despite enjoying the support of over 150 MLAs. The storytelling is focused, even as it partially reduces Jagan’s political opponents to one-dimensional caricatures. The clashes are explored through their mind games and less via slander.
There are flashes of dignity in the depiction of the clash of political ideologies. At a point, Jagan values Chandrababu Naidu as a worthy competitor with his four-decade political stint and the latter too admits Jagan’s shrewdness in not destabilising a government in his quest for power.
While the political drama plays its part in keeping the viewers glued, the absence of any complexity in Jagan’s characterisation hurts its cause. Even in his time in jail and the loss in the 2014 AP legislative assembly elections, the director keeps finding silver linings in Jagan’s life and uses them as stepping stones that laid a foundation for his victory in 2019.
Despite its uni-dimensional narrative and cinematic limitations (of having to portray Jagan in a positive light), Yatra 2 remains fairly engaging. As a film arriving months before a crucial election season, Yatra 2’s timing is undoubtedly manipulative and it doesn’t strive for realism at any point. Using selective real-life events, this could be termed political fiction, perhaps, executed with some taste.
Besides the assuring performances, Madhie’s slick cinematography and Santhosh Narayanan’s operatic music score do well in sustaining the film’s dramatic tension. Jiiva, while aping the political leader’s histrionics, delivers one of his career-best performances in a character where the emotions never get the better of him. Mammootty is as masterly as ever in an extended cameo that throws light on the equation with his on-screen son.
Apart from Ketaki Sharma’s striking resemblance to YS Bharathi, the actress holds her ground in a brief yet impactful role. Mahesh Manjrekar is apt in the shoes of an ageing political patriarch while Sachin Khedekar deserved a better-etched role. The real surprise comes from our very own Subhalekha Sudhakar as a politician who plays by the book – his assertive diction and screen presence add immense value to crucial sequences.
Suzanne Bernert has the right looks and body language to play Sonia Gandhi, but the one-note role fails to challenge her mettle beyond a point. Ashrita Vemuganti, Jeeva and George Maryan (in a cameo) do the needful in their limited screen time.
Yatra 2 is holistically a better film than its predecessor Yatra, but its thematic limitations don’t let Mahi V Raghav explore his storytelling capabilities to the fullest. If you can look past its selective focus (which is difficult), there’s a good chance that Yatra 2 may not disappoint you. If you still need a reason to catch it on the big screen, then it should be for Jiiva’s bravura performance.