Saturday, February 17, 2007

Eklavya - Throwing Seats at the Screen

I'll confess - I knew very little about Eklavya before I went to see it. I didn't know much about the cast - just that it starred Amitabh Bachchan, and just that it was directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Chopra is capable of either producing a real gem, as he did with Parinda & Mission Kashmir, but also very easily capable of producing what can only be described as bilge - as he did with Kareeb. It's like watching Sehwag go out onto the pitch - you can never tell at the start of the innings if he's going to knock a century or be out for a stupid shot in single digits.

Eklavya has to be one of the worst Bollywood movies I've seen in some time. I just knew that the good run I've had watching Hindi movies in cinemas over the past six months just couldn't last. After Omkara, Kabul Express, and even Dhoom 2, which at least qualified as a total time-pass movie, Eklavya will be my statistical correction. It has to be the single most reductionist, essentialising view of a world that is so unbelievably anachronistic as to be laughable. The entire movie is set in a royal palace (as a Rajput and someone with some genetic sense of what a fort actually is mean to be, I will NOT dignify the pleasure palace they filmed in with the term "fort", despite the insistence of the characters to do so) and is predicated on a great & terrible palace secret - that the heir to the throne is not the son of the King, but rather of one of the guards, Eklavya. The King opens the movie by reading Shakespeare, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" to his dying wife, in what seems to be an act of touching love, until we see him strangle her when in her dying delirium she keeps calling out for the guard, not him. Nice, isn't it?

Things steadily go downhill from there. There is palace intrigue, the King isn't impotent (as was earlier implied) but rather more interested in his stable boys than his wife (aha, that prediliction, do I hear you say) Saif Ali Khan emerges to play the London - returned heir apparent (i.e. pretty much playing the nawabzada that he is in real life), there is a love sick girl from a lower family (Vidya Balan, who is stunningly expressive & just gorgeous on the big screen, but has REALLY flabby arms!!!) and also a demented sister who paints her mother in broad oil strokes reminiscent of Anjolie Ela Menon & M.F. Husain.

Throw into this cocktail some long winded tirades about what dharma really means, a letter from a dying mother to her son explaining who his father is, and possibly the most ill-quoted phrase from the Mahabharata (Dharmah Matibhyah Utghratah - dharma is that which is born from reason & rationale) and voila - one orientalist fantasy with eerie Shakespearean intrigue thrown in for good measure. Eklavya, the title character, has been described as Bachchan's tour de force. Unfortunately, while Bachchan is definitely a good actor, even he cannot save his character from descending into what appears to be an almost Al Qaida like fanaticism of what his dharma truly is, and how dharma is above all reason, all question, all challenge. Besides, he's an incredibly weepy man!!

The real tragedy of the movie is that aesthetically it is quite beautifully shot. But to quote a fellow film goer, give a five year old a camera and some Rajasthani landscapes, and you'd get some amazing visuals. There are also some good performances from several characters - Boman Irani, a favourite after Don, plays an incredibly Shakespearean King, while Sanjay Dutt in his cameo as the untouchable who became a cop is a breath of fresh air. It was good to see Parikshit Sahani back on screen, but alas, even heavy hitters like these are unable to save Eklavya from becoming the hash that it truly is. I am truly surprised by the reviews that this movie has gotten from international critics - but I suspect in so many ways the movie becomes much more accessible to a western audience that is immediately able to relate to a film that can so easily help reinforce an Orientalist stereotype. There are palaces, there is royalty, there are long speeches about honour, there are evil landlords who annex the lands of poor farmers - all in all, welcome back to the Raj.

I won't even GET started on the factual inaccuracies, because we could be here for some time, and I feel terrible about having wasted three hours of my life on this movie already. So I will finish this post with the following two comments:

1. DO NOT WATCH THIS MOVIE unless you are totally mascochistic

2. DO NOT WATCH THIS MOVIE unless in the words of a fellow movie watcher you want to see if you will actually be forced to rip your seat off the floor to hurl it at the screen...

(PS - No images because I could not be bothered to waste my time looking for them on the internet. Go to the official film site, Eklavya The Royal Guard, if you're interested)


Sunny Singh said...

Agree totally. Complete nightmare of a movie. And sadder still because it had the potential for true greatness.

Beth said...

Ooooh...sounds awful! This is the next Hindi film at my local art theater but I'll be in London - but definitely won't be trying to catch it there.

Was the Big B doing a variation on his pater familias thing? I'm pretty tired of that, I have to admit.

Lotus Reads said...

Caught your review in the nick of time! The plan was to go see "Eklavya" this evening, but I don't think I want to anymore. Thanks for warning me, maybe I can spend my $12 on "Little Children" or "Breach" instead.

I have to admit I am a little disappointed - I was looking forward to the movie.

The Buddha Smiled said...

Lotus - tell me if Breach is any good. I've been thinking about going to go see it, and is currently on my list of films to watch (along with Letters from Iwo Jima, The Last King of Scotland, and a couple of others)

Beth - yeah, the Big B descended into pater familias by the end. He started out being a slightly subservient guard, who bows and scrapes but by the end has emerged with the big fathering thing again. Sigh!

Avanti said...

Awesome review peppered humorously with the actual angst that you experienced while viewing the film.

Keep it up

Als said...

You have great writing skills. I need to admit that.

I really don't understand why do you hate this movie. If you are a critic by profession, I would rather not attempt to explain more.

The movie revolves around Eklavya's dharma and the other which is repeated multiple times (agreed too many times). It truly revolves around these and I see no flaws. Do email me if find any. Now please don't get to specifics like how can a mentally retard girl do great paintings, the extra ordinary display of Eklavya's ability to use the shiv.

And as you said the reviews/ appreciations from NY Times, LA Times and many more state that the movie is worth a watch. The point is, it caters to a very different set of audience.

sujeet said...

I agree with you. The movie was crap and all the actors were underplayed

Dish said...

Two words - Stupid Review;
That is, if it was meant to be a review.
The quote, which you talked about as being misquoted, in my and perhaps any rational person's opinion is NOT misquoted. Its introduced very subtely, and is then carefully explained during the course of the entire film with a brilliant culmination in terms of the penultimate dialoge between Mr. Bacchan & Saif. I think it was a very poignent film with a tight script, but yes it lacked on the story front, and the last scene really sucked.
Regarding your comment of staunchly following one's Dharma "in an Al Quaida like fanaticism", probably you are very likely to blast off the character of Bheeshma in the Mahabharata as well - which can be said to be the closest to the titular "Eklavya" here. Being staunch doesn't necessarily classify as being a fanatic mate!
Kindly avoid being scathing towards a work of art if you cant understand it.