Monday, February 19, 2007


I’d forgotten the beautiful story which is the genesis of the movie’s name. The movie begins with Amitabh Bachchan’s rich baritone recounting the story from the Mahabharat, where a tribal archer goes to Dronacharya and wishes to learn from him. Dronacharya refuses – he is after all the guru of the kings and this boy is a lowly tribal ! The boy returns to the jungle, makes a statue of Drona and begins to practice / teach himself. One day, when Dronacharya goes for a walk in the jungle, he is accompanied by his dog, who is barking incessantly. Suddenly the dog becomes quiet, its mouth kept open by 7 arrows, shot and placed so delicately that there is no blood / pain felt by the dog. Drona is impressed by the young boy archer but remembers his promise to the prince Arjun, to make him the best archer in the land. He proceeds to ask the archer for guru-dakshina – as it was his statue under which the archer practiced. The archer humbly bows before him and requests him to ask for whatever he wants. And Drona asks for his right thumb – without which he would no longer be able to use the bow and arrow, rendering his years of practice useless. The Archer immediately cuts of the thumbs and lays it on the feet of the Guru. The archers name was Eklavya. Did he do the right thing ? Did he feel pain ? What would you do if in the same situation (silly question actually in todays world, isn’t it ? )?

I thought this start was sensational. It evoked for me all the grandeur and brilliance of the Mahabharat, which along with the Illiad, ranks as one of my favourite stories. It brought back to my mind the flaws of human nature, our petty jealousies and arrogance, which are so beautifully captured by this classic Indian epic. And while the rest of the movie does manage to evoke some of the atmosphere, part of the ethos, it fails to build into anything substantial. The dramatic ending for me, the big ‘secret’, didn’t make me gasp…

Eklavya (Amitabh Bachchan), named after the above archer, is the royal guard of a Rana (king) of a present day village in Rajasthan. Eklavya’s father had died saving the Rana’s father, several generations of Eklavya’s clan have served the family etc and he has been brought up with the same motto as the archer – no price is too high to give for your master. The Rana (Boman Irani) comes across as half-crazed, a bit hysterical, his wife (Sharmila Tagore) is ailing, his son Harshvardhan (Saif Ali Khan) is in London and his daughter, Nandini (Raima Sen) is confirmed to be fully crazed. The other characters include Jyotiwardhan (Jackie Shroff), the Rana’s younger brother and Udaywardhan(Jimmy Sheirgill), his son. To complete the cast you have another old faithful servant, the driver, who has a young daughter (Vidya Balan) who dreams of marrying Saif. And you have a police inspector (Sanjay Dutt) who gets called to investigate the various deaths that happen in the household.

I cannot tell you much more about the plot as that would give away some story details which may spoil your movie experience. The whole mood of the film is very sombre…we rarely see any of the characters smile, its almost as if they know whats going to happen next and are afraid. Also, as a kind of contrast, the setting is gorgeous, the landscape beautiful - not a studio here but a genuine, real life location.

Amitabh Bachchan is sensational as Eklavya – his eyes convey his emotions beautifully, its quite an understated performance. Even though his character is uni-dimensional (‘I’m a wall of this fort, my purpose is to protect its inhabitants. Full stop.’) he manages to bring depth and emotion to it. In one scene where he is upset, angry at his own inability to prevent misfortune from falling upon the house, all we see is him pacing up and down in his room and then, eventually, venting his anger on some furniture. He speaks few words but we manage to understand his psyche quite perfectly. I thought Saif was outstanding as well – quiet, brooding, lonely…carrying the burden of some secrets, looking every bit the troubled prince.

However, what prevents the film from being great is the uneven pace of the movie – there are quite a few stops and starts, a few cuts which jar…and we never understand any of the other characters are thinking, apart from Amitabh and Saif and possibly the Rana. The equations between the different characters are also not fully explained. How long has Saif been away ? What does he think of the Rana’s brother ? How is Eklavya regarded by those plotting against the king ? Is he a sort of Luca Brasi (from the Godfather), a major impediment or is he now more decorative due to his age ?

You get the awe, you get the grandeur, you get the different world that its characters seem to inhabit. The story itself though feels fake... even though the characters and locales seem real. And because of the cuts / uneven pace, you don’t get the sense of being in a free-flowing river but more a man-made canal which has several locks and dams. And because of the ‘weak’ ending, you get the sense of having done the countdown (10..9…8…) but not achieving lift-off ! Its nice, the movie, I can equate it to a beautiful, authentic local artifact/painting that you you would buy in Rajasthan...but, its not a masterpiece.

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