Eklavya-the Royal Guard

By Vidya Pradhan

Why oh why does Vinod Chopra end his movies the way he does? Mission Kashmir lost a whole lot of its impact when the Hrithik Roshan character survived. Parineeta( which was from his production house)  was a lovely period movie that, to my mind, was almost ruined by the contrived ending where Saif breaks down the dividing wall using a concrete planter( have you ever tried lifting one of those things?). My biggest, and probably only, criticism of this movie is the way it ends.

Eklavya –the royal guard, is a sort of samurai story set in the decaying feudalism of post-independence Rajasthan. Amitabh plays a Zatoichi kind of character, a blind guard to a deranged Rana, who is also an expert marksman. When the ailing wife of the Rana dies with Eklavya’s name on her lips, it sets in motion a series of unfortunate events that almost brings the dynasty down.

Boman Irani plays the crazed Rana with gusto. His shifty eyes convey paranoia and madness convincingly and he holds his own against Amitabh’s scene stealing performance. Saif, who plays the Rana’s estranged son, shows tremendous maturity in his performance. Vidya Balan, who seems to be in every movie these days, and Raima Sen have small but well fleshed out roles that they do justice to. Sanjay Dutt, playing a low-caste cop with a chip on his shoulder about the feudal system, gets paunchy and buzz cut for the part. It was a wise move to distance himself from the Munnabhai persona, but I’m not sure how effective it was because the audience still seemed to find anything he said funny.

The movie is of course, all about Amitabh. I wouldn’t say this is his best performance ever, simply because there are so many other wonderful ones. Personally, I liked him better in Black because it was more of a multi-dimensional role. Eklavya requires him to show various shades of anguish, which he does movingly. His craggy face, almost obscured by facial hair, is wonderfully suited to display the suppressed regrets of his character. (To see what a really fine performer he is, just check out the trailer for Chini Kum, his upcoming movie with Tabu. I think directors are now writing parts especially for him.)

With a running time of just 2 hours (not including the slide shows and previews), Eklavya doesn’t waste a moment or a scene. It is crisply edited and the choreography captures the claustrophobic and fetid atmosphere of the haveli as beautifully as the much publicized 300 camel scene in the desert. There is just one song in the movie, a soft lullaby that is short and doesn’t intrude. The pace of the movie is relentless, with some twists in the plot that I absolutely did not anticipate.

The movie has a dark and somber tone to it throughout, starting with the title credits, which is why the ending feels like a real sell out. Perhaps the director felt that the audience would not have the stomach for a tougher, more credible conclusion. But what my 16 year old self would have been happy with I simply cannot stomach now. Does the Indian audience want its movies more easily digestible? What do you think? I would love to know.


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