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Eklavya movie review

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Cast Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Sanjay Dutt, Vidya Balan    more...
Director Vidhu Vinod Chopra
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The Eklavya Movie Review

Good but not great
By N K Deoshi
Rating: 3/5

Vidhu Vinod Chopra's movie 'Eklavya' is a compelling watch. But it falls short of becoming a cinematic masterpiece.

The movie grips you from the very opening scene when Amitabh Bachchan narrates the tale of young archer Eklavya from Mahabharata. Following his dharma, Eklavya had cut off his thumb as dakshina (offering) to his guru Dronacharya in the epic. The protagonist of Chopra's movie also follows his dharma, but - metaphorically speaking - he doesn't cut off his thumb in the end.

In 1 hour-50 minutes of the movie's running time, Chopra tells a complex tale. And he does it with a sense of gravity and urgency. There is a grave and sombre mood throughout the film. To balance it, Chopra makes his movie cinematographically opulent.

The camera moves through the rooftops of Devigarh palace, captures the story's characters in silhouettes against the setting sun, zooms out from shots of flying pigeons (quite regular in Chopra's films) and establishes the affluent interiors of the palace with remarkable visual beauty. It can be said without exaggeration that 'Eklavya' has exceptional cinematography (by Natarajan Subramaniam). The movie is visually hypnotic. But that is where the irony lies. The technique and aesthetics overpower the content. And the movie falls short of being a masterpiece.

It would be unpardonably cruel to give away the movie's story. So here is a rough outline. Eklavya (Amitabh Bachchan) is the royal guard of Devigarh palace where Rana Jayawardhan (Boman Irani) lives with his dying wife Suhasinidevi (Sharmila Tagore) and mentally retarded daughter Nandini (Raima Sen). For ages, Eklavya's forefathers have performed this duty of protecting the royal family.

Eklavya is not just a servant of the family. He is linked to it in a way that has remained secret for years. But the secret comes out with the death of Suhasinidevi.

Harshwardhan Rana (Saif Ali Khan), the scion of the royal family, comes to the fort to perform the last rites. In a letter written for him by his deceased mother, Harshwardhan comes to know the secret. Henceforth, his and Eklavya's destinies are intertwined.

Parallel to all this, a short romance brews between Harshwardhan and Rajjo (Vidya Balan), the daughter of haveli's driver. She has been the only companion of Harshwardhan's retarded sister Nandini.

A chain of events is sparked when Rana Jayawardhan's greedy brother Jyotiwardhan (Jackie Shroff) and his petulant son Uday (Jimmy Shergill) hatch a devious plot to take over Rana's wealth.

As the story moves through spectacular killings and bloodshed, Eklavya's dharma is put to test.

'Eklavya' is a story of relationships not acknowledged, story of love, greed and betrayal. It is a tale about following one's dharma, but not in a regressive way. Chopra adds a progressive thought to the concept of dharma. His direction and his handling of the subject are undeniably brilliant. But he does not develop the characters of Pannalal Chohar (Sanjay Dutt) or Jyotiwardhan (Jackie) sufficiently enough. Even Saif's character is not properly fleshed out.

Amitabh Bachchan remains the centrifugal force of the story. It is around him the whole drama is woven. And the superstar gives a performance worth an award. Interestingly, Mr. Bachchan isn't given too many dialogues in the film. He remains mostly in the background for the first 30 minutes of the story. And when he steps to the fore, he captures one's attention. His eyes are particularly very expressive in his overall performance.

Saif Ali Khan is suitably restrained for his role while Sanjay Dutt wins hearts in just a few scenes that he has in the film. Boman Irani brings a slight eccentricity to his character. Jackie Shroff has a commanding presence and Jimmy Shergill is convincingly guileful.

Raima Sen has a very small part. Vidya Balan is once again superb. She is very natural, particularly in her chemistry with Saif.

All said, let's handle the moot question. Is 'Eklavya' a cinematic masterpiece?

Nope! It could have been if Chopra had developed the story's characters more. In his zeal to make the movie visually captivating, Chopra relegates the most important thing (the depth in the story that comes through properly fleshed out characters) to the background. And the result is a beautiful movie with a fragile soul.

But it is definitely worth watching once.

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