Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

February 16, 2007

Lets its guard down

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:05 pm

February 16, 2007

Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Sanjay Dutt, Vidya Balan, Jackie Shroff, Boman Irani

Director: Vidhu Vinod Chopra

Filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Eklavya is a tale of honour and duty and palace intrigue, and its all set within the walls of a majestic fort in Rajasthan. The royal family still lives here, but with no kingdom to rule. Yet the royal guard Eklavya — played by Amitabh Bachchan — has only one mission. Like nine generations before him, he lives only to protect the king, his family and the fort. When the queen passes away, her son, the prince, Saif Ali Khan who’s been living in London, returns to the palace, but only to discover a shocking truth that has been kept away from him since birth. Meanwhile, Saif’s father, the king, Boman Irani under the influence of his conniving brother Jackie Shroff, turns a blind eye towards the injustice meted out to his people.

There’s chaos in the palace halls as jealousy, betrayal and murder take over, and closely-guarded secrets come tumbling out of everywhere.

Despite the fact that it’s an entirely original plot, and that Chopra chooses such an original backdrop against which he unfolds his story, you have to admit, his screenplay doesn’t have that “grab value” required to hold your attention. At least two of the film’s big surprises turn out to be predictable and the film’s central debate is just too weak. According to Hindu mythology, Eklavya the archer unhesitatingly cut off his thumb as a fee to his teacher, and Chopra’s film questions that act of Eklavya’s.

But problem is, the screenplay fails miserably in building up this conflict. In fact, the screenplay plods along lazily and wastes too much time on Saif and Vidya Balan’s romance.

In virtually every department other than script, Chopra’s Eklavya is a work of art. Magnificent sets, picture-postcard cinematography, haunting score and remarkable performances by lead players. It’s a pity the story just doesn’t hold. You’re unable to empathise with the characters or connect to the plot because the conflict at the heart of the film has been treated in such a wishy-washy manner. There’s much cinematic beauty up on display, but at its core, the film has little to offer.

Of the cast, Sanjay Dutt is splendid as the roguish cop, but the film belongs to Amitabh Bachchan and Saif Ali Khan who with their inspired performances infuse some energy into the lifeless narrative.

What do you expect when you enter a cinema to watch a film? To be transported to another world for those few hours, to find yourself engaged in the protagonist’s story, to come out having made a journey. And it’s here where Eklavya really fails. Far from keeping you glued to your seat, involved in the story, Chopra’s film bores you enormously because you really don’t know where it’s all leading up to and quite frankly, halfway through the film, you don’t even care.

How long can pretty sets and stunning action scenes hold your interest? How long can you struggle to comprehend what Bachchan’s mumbling under his monstrous beard?

A big disappointment from an accomplished filmmaker, Eklavya goes down as a gross miscalculation. It’s a shot in the dark that fails to hit the mark. I’m going to go with two out of five, a just about average rating for Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Eklavya. It’s like a lavish meal that’s a treat to the eye, but taste it and you discover that something vital is missing.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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