Name: Eklavya: The Royal Guard
Director: Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Did I watch this recently? Yes
Contemporary India but a majestic fort with a king who has no kingdom. Eklavya (Amitabh Bachchan), their royal guard, lives in a time warp. He lives only to protect the fort, the dynasty, and the king. For nine generations Eklavya’s family has protected Devigarh, a centuries old citadel in Rajasthan. His marksmanship is stuff of legends. His unflinching loyalty inspires ballads. Eklavya has spent his entire life serving the royals and closely guarding their secrets but now he’s getting old and increasingly blind. Unable to cope with the suffocating customs of his land, the heir, Prince Harshwardhan (Saif Ali Khan), has stayed away in London. But the sudden demise of the queen, Rani Suhasinidevi (Sharmila Tagore), forces the Prince back to the kingdom he had left behind. The Prince’s return brings a rush of joy into the moribund fort. His mentally challenged twin sister, Princess Nandini (Raima Sen) and his childhood love Rajjo (Vidya Balan) are delighted to see him. But the joy of reunion is short-lived. There is unrest in the kingdom: Farmers are being stripped of their lands. The king, Rana Jaywardhan (Boman Irani), influenced by his brother, Rana Jyotiwardhan (Jackie Shroff), supports the atrocities being forced upon the helpless peasants. The king receives a death threat over the phone. An irreverent police officer, Pannalal Chohar (Sanjay Dutt), is called in to investigate. But he might be too late. The fragile peace of the land is suddenly shattered by a barrage of bullets. And amidst the mayhem, the safely guarded secrets of the fort are unveiled. What follows is a contemporary, edge-of-the-seat dramatic action thriller with a stellar ensemble cast – Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt, Saif Ali Khan, Vidya Balan, Boman Irani, Jackie Shroff, Jimmy Sheirgill, Raima Sen and Sharmila Tagore.
Eklavya was this years official Indian Entry to the oscars. It was also one of the most controversial decisions which sparked a war of words between the directors of all the potential entries. Some say ‘Dharm’, ‘Chak De! India’ and ‘Guru’ were better choices. Some called it pretentious, ‘all gloss, no soul’ and it was only picked because its less ‘bollywood’ then a lot of the other selections to chose from. The movie is in some terms not very bollywood – it goes for 1.5 hours, it has only one song (the rest is a symphonic score) and is more thriller then romance. Some went so far to say the selection committee was bias.
So whats my opinion on the controversy? To quote director Mahesh Bhatt on the subject ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!’
It’s nice to see the occasional Bollywood film try something different and go a different way. Eklavya is short, thrilling and well put together but does not stay with you like Parieenta. Was i glad i watched it? You bet! Was i disappointed? Only a little.
The movie is mostly a thriller and short so as a result does not focus on the romance or personal dramas we usually see in Bollywood. So some people state it lacked ‘soul’ – which is true to some point as they don’t delve too deep into the people. But thats not the point of the movie.
The movie looks at the issue of ‘Dharma’. As Eklavya describes it means ‘doing ones duty’, whether you should fulfill your duty or make your life choices based on your own sense of right or wrong. There are consequences of not fulfilling your duty, not only for your own rebirth but it can affect generations of family before you. Eklavya (played by Amitabh Bachchan) was brought up with a strong focus of the importance of fulfilling his duty and as such his own feeling of right and wrong with what he wanted to do in life was stifled in replacement of making sure he fulfilled his duty and keep the King safe.
There are several key reasons to watch this movie. Firstly is the plot which is well written and executed. Just as the viewer thinks that there wasn’t much more to the plot, or that it was dragging, there would be another twist or plot development to keep you interested. Its good to see such focus paid to the script.
Second reason to see this movie is the acting, particularly Saif & Amitabh. Amitabh played the innocence and humility of Eklavya the guard well. Although at times he had the Aishwarya Rai (Umrao Jaan) acting problem with too much glycerine, but his anguish you felt was real not brought on by a bottle of glycerine. Saif played the subtle madness/frustration, innocence and love beautifully. He had to deal with so many complex emotions – more then Amitabh, so was good to see him pull them off. Vidya i felt indifferent towards. But i attribute that to the limited nature of the character and the fact she really didn’t have much to work with. I really felt she was wasted a bit in this film, but the love story is endearing nonetheless – just doesn’t capture your heart totally.
Thirdly is the cinematography and technical brilliance. You can be swept away with the beauty of Rajasthan and the forgotten land. There is another scene i cannot give away due to its spoilerish nature, but in the cinema the screen is totally black and they just use speech and sound effects to keep the suspense of the scene. It’s really thrilling to watch that scene. I’m not a huge fan of Sanjay Dutt but i really loved his character in this movie, helped to bring some smiles in this otherwise very dramatic movie.
The biggest problems i have with the film is due to the short nature of the film. I wanted the movie to explore the characters more especially Vidya Balans character and the story of the Queen (Sharmila Tagore) and Eklavya (Amitabh Bachchan). There were several undeveloped character storylines which can be why some people thought the movie lacked soul. I’m still undecided whether i’m happy with the ending of the film – whether it was cliched or right for the story.
Overall Score: 3.5/5 Hairy Anil Kapoors – Some people might feel disappointed with this film, but there is enough of an interesting story and beautiful technicality of the film if you feel like you want to watch something different from what bollywood normally offers. Plus a treat for fans of Amitabh or Saif Ali Khan.
Here are some more screenshots of some of the beautiful cinematography and just other random shots