Like Ghajini (2005), where I saw the Hindi version first, here too, I saw Yuva (2004) before Ayutha Ezhuthu and again with the two films being reasonably faithful to each other, many of my issues and problems and even the good parts coincide with the review of the Hindi counterpart. So for the basic review, it would make sense to check out Yuva.
But somewhere looking at both, I feel the Tamil version still has relatively more coherence and is actually the more engaging of the two versions. Maybe it helps that I've seen this version much later and though one was disappointed by Yuva at the time (one always expects nothing short of something special from Mani Ratnam), seeing the quality of Hindi cinema now, one feels maybe one was a little too harsh on the film in its time. For all its problems, Yuva/Ayutha Ezhuthu is far, far better fare than most of the junk floating around today in the name of cinema. And maybe I also find the Tamil version better as Mani Rathnam shot this after Yuva and was thereby able to cover up some of the original's problems.
As I said, my basic issues with the film remain much as I felt when I saw Yuva - the Amores Perros inspired structure - more a gimmick rather than naturally lending itself to the story, the naive and simplistic socio-political approach, finishing with the most interesting story first and one having to wait till mid-way of the second half for the story to move forward, and barring the Inba-Sasi story, the Mani Ratnam touch inconsistent in the other two love stories. Still, there's no doubt the film is well-crafted and in my opinion, the overall ensemble cast works better and gels together better in this version. In any case, strong performances have always been always Mani Ratnam's strength.
Perhaps the only performance from Yuva that steals a march over Ayutha Ezuthu is Abhishek's searing act as Lallan ahead of Madhavan's Inba. Madhavan is not bad but has occassionally gone overboard at the excitement of being cast against type from his usual lover boy roles. The effort shows in his act. In fact, comparisons are inevitable between the two films. There is little to choose between Rani Mukherji and Meera Jasmine, both being fine actresses. Siddharth works better than Vivek Oberoi as the young man with dreams of going to America while Trisha perhaps is a just a notch lower to Kareena, not so much in performance, but Kareena had a stronger attitude and confidence in her interpretation of the role. Esha Deol being the one common factor in both films is well...the same in both films, defeated a little by her sketchy role both times but yet, being the most likeable she has been on screen in Ratnam's able hands. The big difference for me between the two films and therefore making this version the more watchable one is Suriya's central act as the idealistic student leader and angry young man wanting to change the system. Yet again, he shows us what a fine performer he is and gives a smoldering yet understated performance clearly outranking Ajay Devgan's performance in Yuva. But here, one has to add that Devgan did what he could performance wise. He was just too old for the role and in that sense is miscast. Of the supporting cast, the masterstoke in Ayutha Ezhuthu is the casting of Bharathiraja as the wily politician, stealing a march over Om Puri no less!
The techncials are in place like you would except in a Mani Ratnam film. The camerawork is brilliant in places yet sometimes seems inconsistent, due to, one susupects, the crowded and difficult to control locations but still more controlled than the Hindi version, Sreekar Prasad's editing maintains the pace and flow of the film nicely and AR Rahman's music is, yes, Rahmanesque - rousing, energetic, multi-layered, magical and even abstract and infuriating at times.
All in all, not Mani Ratnam at his best, but still worth a watch.