Yuva, a multi-stranded tale, looks at life through the eyes of three male characters, Lallan (Abhishek Bachchan), Michael (Ajay Devgan) and Arjun (Vivek Oberoi).
Ratnam's tale begins at the point that all the three men meet. The narrative then rewinds back to the moments that led each character to this particular destination. Taran Adarsh considers this style as a flaw: “The film has loopholes aplenty. To start with, the film has been treated in an episodic fashion; the first 30-35 minutes focus on Abhishek and Rani's story. Then Ajay and Esha's track takes over, followed by Vivek and Kareena's portions And then politics and politicians take precedence.”
Whether you consider this narrative format as a ‘loophole’ or not, you can’t deny the influence that Yuva has had on other films. It marks a chain of movies that began to slice the narrative into various character perspectives (Silsilay, Kuch Meetha Ho Jaye, Bas Ek Pal and other films where characters are linked but never meet). Clearly, Yuva had an impact on other filmmakers in that it opened their eyes to the possibilities of what they could do with narrative. Not that Yuva is the place where such a style originated, in terms of world cinema, but in Bollywood it certainly set the ball rolling.
Within the context of the film, the narrative should not be considered a flaw as it is one of its biggest strengths. It allows us the space to be slowly taken in by each character’s mindset. A linear narrative could have resulted in more shallow character definition. Lallan has never been just another villain to me. Nor is Arjun just another lover boy. The post-interval bridge sequence (where the strands begin to tie up) is important because the characters are forced to come out of their comfort zones. Each and every character changes at this particular moment. The murder attempt tests Michael’s resilience in pursuing his political agenda; Lallan goes too far in trying to realise his ambitions and Arjun reluctantly has to put another man’s life before his own safety.
The political angle does not always convince. The details are a bit vague and Om Puri seems to be the sole representation of the entire political scenario. Khakee and Dev (released in the same year) were more interesting on this front. Still, Yuva portrays a noble message of working to serve your own country, a message along the same lines as Swades (also released in the same year).
There is a noticeable disdain for education, which is epitomised in the scene where Michael asks a teacher what she has ever done to change the world. Is education really the big bad wolf that it is made out to be here? I can’t entirely agree, I believe in the old saying ‘knowledge is power’. And education could serve as a useful companion guide to trying to change the world. Ratnam seems to be condemning the passive nature of a student in formal education. While teaching French, Radhika (Esha Deol) requests a student to stop asking questions about grammar as she is the person in charge of the class. The dislike for teachers becomes rather obvious here, according to Ratnam, they represent one of the causes of apathy and blinkered thinking among the young in India.
Years later, Abhishek Bachchan's performance still surprises. It is not a character or type of performance that the actor has repeated (as is the tendency with other actors when it comes to their landmark roles). The cockiness that he has portrayed from Dus to Bluffmaster is of a different, confident kind. Lallan’s arrogance stems from his self-hate and resentful anger. This is why Bachchan’s violent reaction to his wife’s infidelity in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna doesn’t have the same power as the moment in Yuva when he discovers that his unborn baby has been aborted. The child was meant to be his redemption.
The female performances shouldn’t be underestimated, they represent the thread of feminism that runs through it all. Radhika is a reminder of Kate at the ending of the Taming of the Shrew, she presents a picture of tradition and conventionality but has the ability to control events through her very appearance (she is always allowed to get away with white lies). Meera is a free spirit (a natural and likeable performance by Kareena Kapoor) but she decides that she controls her destiny as she takes it upon herself to cancel her impending marriage to the wrong man. And finally, there is Sashi (a strong and commanding Rani Mukherjee) who as she condemns men as all being the same, is unable to see that she is on a train journey to freedom, away from the shackles of married life.