Bejoy Nambiar has returned to the movies – a daunting prospect in itself. Nambiar is back after Taish (2000) with not one but two explorations of college campus culture.

Like his mentor Mani Ratnam, Nambiar has filmed his latest venture simultaneously in Tamil and Hindi. The Tamil-language Por stars Arjun Das and Kalidas Jayaram. The Hindi-language Dange has Harshvardhan Rane and Ehan Bhat. TJ Bhanu is the common actor between the productions.

Dange provides a short answer to anyone who has wondered whether the future lies in the youth. The movie is seething with hysterical students embroiled in chaotic situations mostly of their own making. There’s plenty of empty yelling, zig-zagging across corridors in trumped-fury, and pretentious pontification in the quest for meaning. Just about everyone in Dange works far too hard to be noticed, starting with its creator.

The 153-minute movie is set in the mercifully fictitious Martin’s University in Goa, which is run by administrators who are hard-pressed to control the never-ending turmoil. A bunch of nuns constantly rushes about trying to put out fires, of which there are far too many.

Harshvardhan Rane is Xavier, also known as Z (like the broadcast network). Of long hair and frequently unbuttoned shirt, Z ferries himself around on a quad bike. He’s been trying to support his thesis that depression can be cured by narcotics but has been unable to because he has been ingesting his research material.

Both Z and his supplier-bestie Ishika (Nikita Dutta) have personal reasons to smoke up. A new student, Yuva (Ehan Bhat), has a darker agenda in targetting Z for control of the campus. Even as Z and Yuva set up a confrontation, the idealistic student leader Gayatri (TJ Bhanu) pursues justice for a wronged Dalit student.

Any resemblance with Mani Ratnam’s own bilingual films Aayutha Ezhuthu and Yuva (2004), whose intersecting stories include chapters on student life, is both a coincidence and an insult. Dange doesn’t have a central core, properly developed sub-plots or engagingly written characters to hold the attention.

Concentration is hard in a movie that has been shot and edited like one long musical montage but plays out like a series of disappearing short-form videos. Solid scenes, a few good tunes, and some decent performances (by Bhat and Dutta) are submerged by a narrative that is trying to say something big and noble and deep about students and political engagement, but simply doesn’t know how to.

Not content with following the basic strand of setting aside personal spats for a larger cause, Nambiar and his posse of co-writers pile on the woes for secondary and tertiary characters. Almost none of the problems faced by this movie’s angst-bitten bunch appear sincere, either because they have been clumsily handled (the Dalit student’s attempt to contest an election against an influential upper-caste candidate) or unfold cursorily (another student’s past contains sexual abuse).

Apropos of absolutely nothing, a young woman tells her friend that she is actually loves her. Here’s another cause to add to the long list of issues that Dange takes up in its attempt to be taken seriously.

Dange (2024).