Vidhu Vinod Chopra is a name I associate with quality cinema, so I expected Eklavya to be the Omkara of 2007. Unfortunately it falls short of my expectations. By far.
The film starts off by retelling the legend of Eklavya, to set the tone of the film – a fight between Dharma and Adharma as it is perceived by the main protagonist Eklavya (Amitabh). Eklavya is an old guard, long in the loyal service of Raja Jayawardhan (Irani). After the death of the Raja’s wife (Sharmila Tagore) a dark secret comes to light, and the Raja is beset with feelings of anger and jealousy. Murder plots and counter-plots are hatched, and there is general turmoil as Eklavya tries to be true to his duty and to his heart. (For a detailed storyline, see my Preview of Eklavya).
This is not a bad film, it’s not. It is decent enough fare, (considering that cinematic trash abounds in Bollywood), but it’s not the superly-duperly fantastic film I was expecting. Chopra has all the right ingredients - a script featuring mystery and treason. There is also the theatrical flavor – the nostalgia of the days when India was a mass of petty kingdoms, ruled by feudal Ranas. To top it all, he has a wonderful cast right from the Big B himself to veterans such as Parikshit Sahni, and Sharmila Tagore and the young ‘uns like Saif and Vidya. So, then, what actually went wrong ?
This is a 2 hour long film; it could have been longer. Coming from me this might seem a bit odd , seeing that I’m in mortal fear of directors who find it hard to edit their films to reasonable lengths. In this case however, I strongly wish that the director had taken the extra time to develop his characters a bit more soundly, and given us, the viewers the opportunity to get to know them better, empathize with the vagaries of their lives, and then care about them. The film picks up rapidly, from the start, but it’s like being thrown into the middle of a play, with little knowledge of the characters. The dialogues of the film are minimal, take a long time to come, and give us a very little information. We do not know much about the characters of the story, except what little (and I mean little) we see of them, and thus it is very hard to feel for any of their dilemmas or anguishes. I, as the viewer felt very distant and removed from the action on screen. Eklavya failed to move, to engross.
Actingwise, Vidya Balan shines the brightest. Saif also delivers the goods, but in a more straight-laced manner; I see none of the spark he displayed in Omkara. Amitabh is as good as ever, and shortcomings in his role are the director’s fault. Sharmila Tagore’s role is minor, and Rama Vij appears fleetingly as Eklavya’s mother. Boman Irani seems to exude just the right amount of paranoia and effeminate mannerisms, quite befitting a weak, jealous Rana unable to sire children. After a long time, I find a role for which to applaud Jackie Shroff, for he does a great job as Jaywardhan’s evil brother, Jyotiwardhan. Jimmy Shergill as Jyotiwardhan’s dissatisfied son does well, but then he was always a fine actor. Sanjay Dutt appears convincing as the cop. Raima Sen as the retarded princess, appears to be pretty sane in a few scenes.
The film is picturesquely shot, in vivid color. There is only one song. There is no strong background score (the Gayatri Mantra and other shlokas are pleasant to hear but do not comprise a musical score) which in a film like this is a major fault.
I’d desist from spending hard-earned moolah on viewing this in the theater – wait for the DVD instead.