Friday, February 16, 2007
Roll out the red carpet,
Blow the conch shells,
Beat the drums...
Put your hands together for one of the finest films to come out of the Hindi film industry!
In his illustrious career, Vidhu Vinod Chopra has helmed a number of poignant and path-breaking films. Back in the director's seat after a seven-year hiatus [after Mission Kashmir], Chopra serves moviegoers a fare that supersedes his earlier accomplishments.
Eklavya - The Royal Guard, his new endeavor, is a brave effort. Here's why:
- Chopra has assembled a mammoth star cast, but every actor -- from the towering Bachchan to the talented Shergill -- have been cast in roles that are a far cry from their earlier works.
- The film packs in a solid punch in those 12 reels/1.50 hours. In fact, Chopra wastes no time and gets down to business soon after the titles conclude. The drama commences at the very start and the plot only thickens as the minutes tick by. The turn of events catch you unaware, with the suspense in the pre-climax coming as a bolt from the blue. Not once does the film fall prey to mediocrity or gets into the same-old rut.
- Casting and scripting apart, Chopra's style of narrating the subject defies convention. Let's face it, Eklavya - The Royal Guard is a difficult film to make. It's not the usual ho-hum masala that packs in juvenile comedy, hollow content and superfluous item songs to woo the moviegoers. Chopra targets the human minds since it's the mind that plays games. There are absolutely no shortcuts here.
- The ghungroo sequence -- a blindfolded Bachchan separating the ghungroo from the pigeon -- is awe-inspiring.
- The assassination of Boman Irani minutes before the intermission, the train speeding by and the camels running helter-skelter is electrifying.
- The murders of Jimmy Shergill and later, Jackie Shroff are hair-raising. Jackie being thrown at a speeding train is superb.
In a nutshell, Eklavya - The Royal Guard is an almost flawless product that should make every moviegoer euphoric. In the future, if you discuss qualitative movies that accorded Hindi cinema a certain dignity, you'd surely include Eklavya - The Royal Guard in that magnificent list!
Contemporary India. A majestic fort. A royal dynasty that no longer rules. A king without a kingdom. Yet 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. 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.
With a running time of less than two hours, Eklavya - The Royal Guard offers more drama and twists-n-turns than the usual Hindi film. The screenplay [writers: Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Abhijat Joshi] is cohesive, the plot doesn't veer into sub-plots, there's just one song [soulful; you don't feel the need for more songs] and there are enough moments to keep your attention arrested.
Any shortcoming? Oh yes, minor ones though! The dialogues [sync sound] aren't audible at places and the pace slows down in the middle of the second half. Also, from the writing point of view, Saif's disclosure could've been more dramatic. Besides, Vidya's turnaround [forgiving Saif for committing a sin] looks a bit too sudden. Nonetheless, these are minor blemishes.
Chopra's direction is exemplary. He handles the material with maturity and also keeps the length in check, which is so vital these days. The visuals [cinematography: S. Natarajan Subramaniam] are superb. In fact, every frame looks like a painting on celluloid. Dialogues [Swanand Kirkire] accentuate the impact of several scenes. Stunts [Tinu Verma] are tremendous and expertly executed. The interiors of the palace [art: Nitin Desai] give the film an opulent look. The background score as well as the sole song 'Chanda Re' [Shantanu Moitra] are appropriate.
Every actor in Eklavya - The Royal Guard stands out for terrific portrayal. Just when you thought that Bachchan can't pull off any aces after sterling performances in BAGHBAN, KHAKEE, BLACK, SARKAR and VIRRUDH, you need to watch Eklavya - The Royal Guard. The actor is in solid form and every emotion he displays is simply incredible. Add one more striking performance in an illustrious and enviable repertoire!
That Saif has evolved into a fine actor is known to all and sundry by now, we don't need proof of it, especially after Kal Ho Naa Ho, Ek Hasina Thi, Parineeta and Omkara. But watching him emote with amazing precision makes you realize the giant strides he has taken as an actor. If Omkara last year won him plaudits and awards, it's time for an encore with Eklavya - The Royal Guard.
Sanjay Dutt has a brief role, but he's fantastic all through. The film ends with a vital sequence featuring him and we assure you, the conclusion will make you grin from ear to ear. If there's one character the hardcore masses will carry home, it's that of Sanju.
Vidya Balan is superb yet again. There's no stopping this actress! Boman Irani is first-rate in a negative role. Watch him interact with Sharmila Tagore in the very first scene and with Jackie subsequently to know the range of this gifted actor.
Jimmy Shergill introduces you to a hitherto unknown facet of his talent. He excels in a negative role. Jackie Shroff gets a meaty role yet again in a Vidhu Vinod Chopra film. He's wonderful. Raima Sen leaves a mark in a significant role. Sharmila Tagore exudes class in a cameo. Parikshit Sahni is efficient.
On the whole, Eklavya - The Royal Guard is an opulent film, with a gargantuan cast, gripping story seeped in Indian emotions and values, striking visuals and topnotch making as its trump cards. Without a shred of doubt, it's one of the finest products to come out of the Hindi film industry. At the box-office, Eklavya - The Royal Guard has so many factors going in its favor:
- Post 26th January [Salaam-E-Ishq], there has been a dearth of a big film in the marquee. Eklavya - The Royal Guard fills the void. It comes at the right time and is embellished with superior content.
- The [holiday] weekend coupled with the multiplexes performing 12/14/16/18 shows every single day will result in the first weekend as well as the first week business reaping rich dividends.
- With no major release till 2nd March, Eklavya - The Royal Guard has ample time to conquer and consolidate its status at the ticket window. Post Munnabhai M.B.B.S., Parineeta and Lage Raho Munnabhai, the brand Vinod Chopra Films has only got stronger and Eklavya - The Royal Guard will reap the benefits for this reason as well.