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Eklavya - The Royal Guard

Reviewer's Summary - Big Bore; Passionless Performance by Amitabh Bachchan; Fine Photography

Language: Hindi
Year: February 16, 2007 in the U.S.
Actors: Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Boman Irani, Vidya Balan, Sanjay Dutt, Jimmy Shergill, Jackie Shroff, Raima Sen, Sharmila Tagore
Director: Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Producer: Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Story & Screenplay: Abhijat Joshi & Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Music: Shantanu Moitra
Dialogs: Swanand Kirkire
Lyrics: Swanand Kirkire

Eklavya is a Big Bore of a film notwithstanding the encomiums heaped on the movie by witless Western critics and fawning Indian hacks.

Two things drag down Eklavya - a passionless performance by Bollywood's fading icon Amitabh Bachchan (a.k.a Big B in India) who plays the central character in the movie and a weak story.

With the exception of Amitabh Bachchan and Saif Ali Khan, the rest of the cast - comprising of Jackie Shroff, Boman Irani, Vidya Balan, Sanjay Dutt, Raima Sen and Jimmy Shergill - is reduced to playing cameos.

Eklavya's sole saving graces are its breathtakingly beautiful photography thanks to cinematographer N.Natarajan Subramanian's magic with the camera and the resplendent costume design of Raghavendra Rathore.

It's a shame that Eklavya director and producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra lacks the storytelling gift of his author brother-in-law Vikram Chandra whose recent book Sacred Games is a tour de force (who can forget the mobster Ganesh Gaitonde or the police inspector Sartaj Singh).

Alas, in Eklavya there are no such memorable characters.

In the tradition of his forefathers, Eklavya (Amitabh Bachchan) is part of the royal guard protecting the King of Devigarh. (Never mind the illogic that this is the 21st century and Maharajas are but a distant memory, if at all, for most Indians.)

Upon the death of Queen Suhasinidevi (Sharmila Tagore), we learn that the lowly guard Eklavya is the real father of her two children Harshwardhan (Saif Ali Khan) and his mentally deficient sister Nandini (Raima Sen) because her husband King Jaywardhan (Boman Irani) turned out to be impotent, and the ostensible need to produce a royal heir.

But Queen Suhasinidevi's death is no natural death. It's murder most foul. Because it's the Queen's husband Jaywardhan who strangles her as she dared to ask for Eklavya on her deathbed.

No sooner has the London-based Harsh returned to the Devigarh fort for his mother's funeral, than we see two plots in the making - a plot by Jaywardhan to kill Eklavya. And a jealous outburst by Jaywardhan's brother Jyotiwardhan (Jackie Shroff) and his son Udaywardhan (Jimmy Sheirgill) that's a harbinger of the second plot, the murder of the King.

The first plot fails. The second succeeds - the King is murdered in the presence of his loyal guard Eklavya against an arrestingly beautiful backdrop of a train crossing by with a large camel herd running alongside.

And the sputtering story completely runs out of gas by this time.

As the ageing protector of the royal family, Amitabh Bachchan fails to bring a formidable presence to his character.

Amitabh Bachchan's inability to convey through either gestures, facial expressions or words, the Learian emotional trauma he must be going through after being walloped by a triple whammy - death of his beloved Queen, murder of his King and realization that his son Harshwardhan is behind the King's murder - proves to be a severe limitation.

The final confrontation between Eklavya and his son Harsh over the murder of the King is not the gripping, emotion-laden, electrifying moment that it should have been but reduced to a banal exchange of words. Where's the drama in the scene? Nowhere.

An accomplished actor and the real life son of Sharmila Tagore, Saif Ali Khan - who delighted audiences in Parineeta and Omkara - is not at his best in Eklavya. But he still delivers a far better performance than Amitabh Bachchan although constrained by his lesser role in the movie.

Eklavya is not a product of a powerful imagination and by no stretch of imagination a must watch movie.

When you brush off the hype, Eklavya is just another Bollywood movie that fails to rise above the mediocre. - Copyright

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