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REVIEW: Visually astonishing but..

To mirror the Maharaj culture, Chopra surely needed a hard-edged, credible script, writes Khalid Mohamed.

india Updated: Feb 16, 2007 19:16 IST
Khalid Mohamed
Khalid Mohamed

Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Sanjay Dutt, Boman Irani, Jimmy Sheirgill, Vidya Balan, Sharmila Tagore, Raima Sen
Direction: Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Rating: **1/2

The tapestry is as rich as jam pastry. Great yards of fabrics cover a yarn that’s as impenetrable as the Cube Rubrik’s. A sad Joe sheds a tear in slo-mo. And pigeons flutter-flutter as if they’d just sighted paneer mutter.

To be fair the Parinda man Vidhu Vinod Chopra actually discovered flying feathered birds much before the Face/Off whiz John Woo did. Today our techno-Merlin serves up Eklavya, a visual banquet.

But does the designer degchi taste as good as it looks? In a word: NO.
Alas, the plot about a bloodbath that erupts in a royal Rajasthan family of today, is more contrived than credible. Certainly vestiges of feudalism continue to persist. Inexplicable beheadings, fatal accidents and palace dissension haven’t exactly vanished with the privy purses. Khamangini anyone?

To mirror the Maharaj culture (or the lack thereof), Chopra surely needed a hard-edged, credible script. Instead you get a cross between a haute-costume drama and Amol Palekar’s Marathi film Anahat. Whazzat? Well, it was about a queen who slept with a commoner, so that the royal lineage could continue. Meanwhile Rajaji staunchly believed in the impotence of being earnest.

Drat. Anyway, Chopra moves towards a deeper allegorical mode. The mantra is -- never break a promise, the way it was for master-archer Eklavya before his guru Dronacharya. In a rather convoluted way, the mythology is replayed in the finale.Without revealing the end, suffice it to say it’s like a mango without a gutli. Yum glum.

Indeed the most engaging and even stunning moments involve action hi-jinks. The scene in which the eponymous palace guard (Amitabh Bachchan) shoots a dove by following the sound waves is extraordinary. So is the centrepiece – cold-blooded murders executed in the midst of running camels. And Eklavya’s almost desert don-style of hitting back at his oppressors, is superb.

Evidently, the director is a master craftsman and can inspire his technicians to fashion cinema of superior quality. Fine, but how about narrating a story that doesn’t lose itself in the folds and fustian of style? Incredibly, at one point the screen goes black for what seems like an eternity, inciting viewers at the Apsara cinema to hoot. Clever idea, boomerang result.

In addition though sufficient care is expended on the Guardsman, the other characters are sketchy – be it his princely son (Saif Ali Khan, mega morose), the scruffy policeman (Sanjay Dutt, same ‘ole), the deceased queen (Sharmila Tagore in heavy silks on her death bed), the Sabrina-like chauffeur’s daughter (Vidya Balan, again in a kiss-kiss mode). And there’s a princess (Raima Sen) who giggles-`n’-gargles to convey she’s more potty than haughty. Oof.

All of them are as unbelievable as apple trees in Andheri. As the Viagra-challenged boom-shaka laka king Boman Irani is not only miscast but a hoot. When he takes his double decker wig off you get the willies.

Jackie Shroff as the Chaalak Chacha is okay. Parikshat Sahni is unusually restrained. Not surprisingly, it falls upon Bachchan to rescue the proceedings. Amazingly accurate in gliding into the skin of a man for whom honour means more than life, he belts out a performance that is fresh and can see that as an actor he could light a fire underwater.

Just for Mr B, S Natarajan Subramaniam outstanding cinematography and Chopra’s stylistic flourishes, Eklavya is worth a look..just about really. And oh yes, it’s just a compact 110 minutes, over before you can snore.

First Published: Feb 16, 2007 19:16 IST