On January 7, NTR: Kathanayakudu was released. In the film based on the rise and rise of late legendary actor NT Rama Rao, we were introduced to YS Rajasekhara Reddy, a young politician from Pulivendula. “He’s a very good friend,” Chandra Babu Naidu introduces YSR to NTR. “I am your big fan,” YSR replies.
Since making an honourary cameo appearance in the NTR biopic, YSR has got his own standalone film, Yatra. It is the second Telugu biopic on a political leader to release this year in the span of just 30 days. However, unlike the former, Yatra limits itself from indulging in over-the-top adulation of its subject.
Yatra is not a film about just one man. It is about what that one-man meant to millions of people.
Director-writer Mahi V Raghav told me that political biopics has never clicked at the box office in India. He did not just understand the risk of taking up such a project, he was also mindful not to repeat the common mistakes of the biopic genre. The hack is not to burden the script with too much information. For example, NTR: Kathanayakudu was crammed with way too many details that weighed down the entire film. The filmmakers had included at least three different moments just to illustrate one point: NTR was always punctual. He was neither late nor early. He was always on time. A passing reference would have served the purpose, instead of dedicating the precious screentime to play up this trivia, which has no value to add to the narration.
But, for Raghav, facts are not as important as narrative. He has avoided writing trivial details into the script, by focusing on just one part of YSR’s life, where he revived the fortunes of a political party that was staring at a definite electoral loss.
Make no mistake, it is not a detached study of one of the most important political leaders of our time. The director does want to make YSR look more endearing and the epitome of leadership. But, what makes this film a pleasant watch is the director’s earnest approach to telling a tale of a political superstar.
For those who are aware of YSR’s achievements in politics, the film works in the realm of nostalgia. For an uninitiated viewer like me, it subtly captures the power tension between a regional satrap and an age-old national political party.
YSR (Mammootty) sticks out like a sore thumb among the crowd of docile. He plays by his own rules and not always obeys the party high-command. But, the fact of the matter is the party needs him more than he needs the party. If push comes to shove, YSR won’t even hesitate to warn the party detailing the strength he enjoys in the assembly.
The party infighting is just a sub-plot in Yatra. The main course is the journey of YSR, who becomes more mellow and determined to address problems at the grass-root level.
Beyond politics, the film also works as a decent human drama. Other characters have a limited role to play in the film, but thankfully they are not used as a hero-worshipping tool. For instance, Jagapathi Babu, who plays YSR’s father’s YS Raja Reddy, makes a strong presence in the story, even though he just appears in just a couple of scenes.
Mammootty, on the other hand, delivers a convincing portrait of a political leader.
The first line that YSR says is: “There is no need for you to worry when I am alive.” This dialogue echoes at the end, when you see people collapsing on the ground in despair.