Vidhu Vinod Chopra is undoubtedly one of the most talented filmmakers India has ever seen. From Parinda to 1942 - A Love Story to Mission Kashmir, the quality of his films has always been unquestionable. He has also been a successful producer making films like Munnabhai MBBS, Parineeta and Lage Raho Munnabhai which did extremely well at the Box Office. And now, Chopra is returning back with his directorial venture Eklavya - The Royal Guard after seven years. The film is a multi-starrer and looks very impressive.
It has been more than six years since Mission Kashmir released. What took you so long to get back to direction?
Eklavya took long time to write; it almost took us five years and before you ask me the next question why it took you five years to write, let me answer that.
What were those elements about the film Eklavya which made you work on the script for five years?
There is a story in Mahabharata of Eklavya, who actually cut his thumb and gave it to Drona; this film has nothing to do with that since the story is contemporary. Eklavya is a present day India dramatic thriller but the question that this film will ask is, 'Did Eklavya do the right thing?' Which means, are we sometimes making mistakes by following dead traditions? So this film tosses the question if we really need to follow these traditions but at the same time, it is a film that has a murder, has drama and has a love story as well. So it is all hidden; it is like when you saw Lage Raho Munnabhai, you had a good laugh but I didn't preach about Mahatma Gandhi. When you walked out of the theatre, you walked away with Gandhigiri. So, I am hoping in Eklavya, people will walk away with the concept of Dharma, with the concept of what is right and what is wrong.
Eklavya looks like your most royal offering till now. A lot seems to have gone behind designing the look of the film.
Eklavya was a very difficult film to make. It is easily my most difficult film so far and the script actually demanded that scale. It is always first that I write a story and then I set up everything that the story demands. This particular story demanded this scale and these actors and everything that you see in it.
Amitabh Bachchan had always expressed his desire to work with you. So was he always on your mind when you were writing the role of Eklavya?
Yes, I do not think that apart from Amitabh Bachchan anybody else could have done the role of Eklavya. I think it was written for him and when you will see it, you will know what I mean, I think it is one of his life's best performances and somebody like Ralph Fiennes, who is one of the finest actors in the world, saw the film, he said exactly the same to Amitabh Bachchan. Ralph complimented Bachchan saying that it is one of the finest performances that he had seen. With such a great compliment coming from Ralph Fiennes who is one of the greatest in the world, I think Bachchan was very emotional. He did not know how to handle the compliment when he heard that.
Does the film have a contemporary setting or is it a period film?
No, it is not at all period film at all. It is today's India, India 2007. The characters like Sanjay Dutt and Saif Ali Khan are contemporary, dressed in modern clothes. And although this is a modern film, there are some characters, even in today's India, who are still living in the past. Boman Irani is one such character who he lives in the past. So, it is the present day India but there are certain characters who still live in the past.
If you have to define Eklavya what will you say?
I would like to tell you one thing for sure that you have never seen a film like Eklavya on Hindi screen before. I think it will be the first time that you will see something like this. It is a two hour film and it says what it needs to say within those two hours. I think this in itself is unusual. Wait for the film to release, February 16 is not far.
Can you give us the gist of the film?
The gist is that the film is about a contemporary royal guard named Eklavya. his mother calls him Eklavya and she tells him that you be like the Eklavya, unbending, following your dharma and that is what Bachchan does in the film. But the question this film is asking really is whether traditions are to be followed blindly or do we need to question it. And the answer of course is the question it.
Everyone in the cast of Eklavya - Jackie Shroff, Sanjay Dutt, Saif Ali Khan, Boman Irani and Vidya Balan have given their career best performance in a Vidhu Vinod Chopra film. So with all of them coming together can we expect a superlative product from Eklavya?
I think that all of them have done absolutely outstanding work, in my opinion. All of them, Saif Ali Khan, Sanjay Dutt, Jackie, Boman, Vidya, and Jimmy Shergill have given amazing performances. One of the things that I am very proud of in this film is that all the eight main actors have done either the best or one of the best roles of their careers in this film, including Amitabh Bachchan.
Sanjay Dutt has too done an amazing role, he is absolutely fantastic. He has cut his hair and has totally different look to get into the character.
With so many stars coming together, will there be possibility of one overshadowing the other in the film?
I never write a film with stars in mind. I never write a film thinking, ye role ye star karega. I write a film, I write the characters and then the actors will play that role. You will be shocked to know this, I have not told to anybody before, that you will see in the first half of the film Amitabh Bachchan just quietly standing right behind everybody in the frame. There are scenes after scenes when you see him in the frame but he is standing far behind Boman or Sanjay or other actors without doing anything. You have never seen him like that in any film before. So, I do not make a film thinking ye hero hai, iska close up dal do. I make a film with characters and each character be it Jimmy Shergill, Jackie, Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt or Saif, they all play their character. It is not that just because Vidya Balan has become a hot heroine that I have put an item number with her. It is only what the film and the character's demand.
Why did you choose Rajasthan as the backdrop?
It is one of my most difficult films I have made ever. If you see the making of the film, you will know how difficult it was to shoot this film. Actually, we are releasing a DVD which will be available for people to see. It has me in conversation with Mr. Bachchan and Saif Ali Khan along with the whole making. You will know how difficult it was then.
Tell us something about the music?
The music will be released when the film releases. In the film, there is just one song that you might have seen on television and there are two more songs as such which are used as background score. In the album, there are eight pieces of music in all and personally I think that it is very unusual and it is very different.