Yudh has really rubbished my expectations, rants Raja Sen.
If defying expectations was the aim, Yudh has achieved said ambitions quite conclusively.
Unfortunately, from an audience looking for high-quality television drama, expectations were high and Yudh has -- at least in week one -- turned out to be a perplexingly inert show, with weak storytelling wasting away good actors.
Right now it’s a television series you may want to give a chance, if you’re feeling particularly generous toward amateurs, yet while it is certainly improving -- episode four is where things seem to be somewhat clicking -- this is a show that will have to pull off something unexpectedly wondrous very soon in order to even be called ‘good.’
Let us cut straight to a scene to illustrate the amateurishness on show: Amitabh Bachchan’s Yudh is on the phone with an assistant out in the country.
Said assistant has been asked to check on Yudh’s son, Rishi.
While on the phone with Yudh, the assistant walks into a house and starts banging on the bedroom door.
Yudh demands to know what’s happening, and the assistant keeps saying the door’s locked, at which point Yudh insists that the door be broken down.
The problem, however, is that the door isn’t even opaque. It’s a doorframe and we -- and the assistant -- can clearly see Rishi inside, sleeping peacefully.
Yet the assistant proceeds to break down the door and force Rishi awake saying “wake up, bade sahab wants to say ‘good morning’ to you.”
Rishi mumbles “good morning” and crashes back into bed, after which the assistant tells Yudh that Rishi’s sleeping.
It is at this point that Yudh, annoyed, asks the assistant to force Rishi awake because he wants to say good morning.
Good night, quality.
The show is about a businessman who sees his fragile life crashing around him in a conspiratorial swirl even as he learns he only has a few years to live.
It’s a good scenario for most actors, especially with such stock characters in place -- Zakir Hussain as Yudh’s weary consiglieri (complete with a developmentally disabled son); Aahana Kumra as Yudh’s well-cast daughter Taruni, a noble non-profit doctor; Kay Kay Menon as an unctuous municipal commissioner; the always-solid Sarika as Yudh’s first wife; Tigmanshu Dhulia as a politician who wears wraparound sunglasses so frequently he must have conjunctivitis or be part of the DMK; and Pavail Gulati as Yudh’s good-for-nothing son who is sold the idea of a 'women’s football league' by a promoter showing him the diagram of a cricket pitch and making bardancers shimmy with cricket helmets and gloves on.
All the moving parts, however cliched, then, are in place.
But there is absolutely no storytelling fluency. Each scene is laboriously and predictably stretched out, and the characters barely get to move beyond their aforementioned one-note personas.
In the middle of it all is Amitabh Bachchan, looking haunted, wearing a hangdog expression. He growls out his lines with trademark precision, but alas, he isn’t the kind of man you want to hear muttering.
He’s well in character as Yudh, a dying, desperate magnate about to lose it all, but -- like with Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino -- it’s hard to make out what he’s saying.
Add to this the fact that he frequently sees a clown, and this hallucinatory advisor is a chap with a thick, nearly comical lisp. So we have a mumbling monarch and a lisping loon -- where are the subtitles again?
I’ve seen some of Yudh fresh off the production line with much better audio quality, and it must be mentioned that Sony has made a shambles of the sound levels. (Not that the clown sounds any clearer, mind.) They’ve also done unforgivably badly with the slices of Bachchan-worshipping ‘trivia’ that accompany each ad break, things about how Bachchan made houseflies on the set a part of a scene, or how Bachchan told a story about Mard. It’s ridiculous.
Episodes 1 through 3 of Yudh deserve to be nothing but background.
Have the TV on while you’re going about your day, looking up every now and then to see Bachchan sparkle, and you’ll be fine.
As a television show so far, it is quite a chore.
Episode 4, where Bachchan operates with forceful confidence, is where the show comes alive a notch. The camera stays boldly on Bachchan during a meeting even while other characters are talking, and the intensity he conjures up when he actually has something to do is striking.
Maybe things will get better. Yudh’s first wife, for example, is a character plucked from a soapy world, and all scenes involving her are soaked in a Balaji sensibility. Again, episode 4 gives her more depth as Yudh's office stresses finally spill over into his home.
Or perhaps I just think the fourth episode is better because mainlining Yudh has really rubbished my expectations. I’m going to stick with this show to the end, because I believe only by treating our television like we do our movies will we eventually have something we can be proud of, but Yudh -- with 16 episodes left -- better up its game quick.