Saturday, February 17, 2007


It’s a strange world of timeless royalty when princes commutes by helicopter, but the palaces are lit with candles!

Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Eklavya: The Royal Guard aims at the quality of fable, the visual of fairy tale and a spare narrative style – a strange combo that!

The film begins with a telling of the story of Eklavya from the Mahabharat, the famous cutting of thumb incident that is used to illustrate upper class oppression of the underprivileged, and the unflinching devotion of subjects to royalty. The child who is being told the story finds it unfair, so Chopra, in a very convoluted way, goes on to show that today’s Eklavya need not be such a self destructive fool. Which is fine, if only the characters were not so underdeveloped, and the pace not so slow.

The story is just put on hold, while Chopra includes such poetically shot ‘items’ like Eklavya (Amitabh Bachchan), a palace guard demonstrating his skill with the a dagger; or a spectacular assassination sequence in the desert.

Royalty has been abolished, but the feudal system still exists in Rajasthan. Rana Jaywardhan (Boman Irani--miscast) is one such ‘king’ of Devigarh, with a loyal guard Eklavya. On his wife’s (Sharmila Tagore) deathbed the impotent (possible homosexuality is hinted at) Rana learns that his son Harshwardhan (Saif Ali Khan) and his mentally retarded twin Nandini (Raima Sen) were fathered by Eklavya, in a secret custom that has been going since the Mahabharat. (Amol Palekar’s Anahat was about this).

There is some farmers’ revolt brewing in the backdround, and the Rana’s brother Jyotiwardhan (Jackie Shroff) and his win Uday (Jimmy Shergill) are up top no good. The investigating officer Pannalal Chomar (Sanjay Dutt) hates the royals for persecuting the lower castes – his ancestor was buried alive in the palace in keeping with some barbaric Rajput custom.

So who killed the Rana and why? It could have been a clever whodunit set against the still resplendent palaces and desert exteriors of Rajasthan, but Chopra does not fully explore any of the tracks, and constructs a film out of several lengthy dialogue scenes—say between Eklavya and the palace driver (Parikshit Sahni), Hashwardhan and his ladylove Rajjo (Vidya Balan), Eklayva and Harshwardhan and so on. And don’t miss the vanity scene—when Eklavya confronts Uday, Parinda is playing in the background.

Even though you applaud Chopra for not including touristy elements like the ‘ghoomar’ dance or women in bright costumes, you actually wish the film was better fleshed out and didn’t leave so much for the audience to interpret as they please. By diluting Elkavya’s nobility in the end, Chopra also misses making his point, the last scene is unforgivably trite.

Maybe worth one viewing for the performances – though servility does not suit Amitabh Bachchan one bit, he pulls it off—the gorgeous visuals (curiously Pradeep Sarkar is given credit for visual director, which explains the over-ornate look, reminiscent of Parineeta) shot by Nataraja Subramanian.


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