Monday, June 23, 2008

Who's your daddy. Eklavya: the Royal Guard.

Eklavya is the film made famous not by its quality, its cast or its box office success (or even lack thereof) but rather the fact that India sent it to the Oscars and then retrieved it, after a scandal of the decision panel being biased (namely, one or two of the judges being involved in the making of the film itself). Some Indian film makers commented on the scandal and on the film, and the director Vidhu Vinod Chopra threw a public hissyfit, not doing himself or his film a favor - most people I saw commenting on the polemic didn't side with VVC.

But let's talk about the movie. I followed the promotion of it pre-release, being excited for the return of the Parineeta jodi Saif-Vidya, as well as Boman Irani, Amitabh, Sanjay Dutt and Sharmila Tagore in a special appearance. The film was delayed several times (never a good sign) and on my first watch of it, I was immensely disappointed. The story of Eklavya (Amitabh Bachchan), a guard of the royal court of Devigarh, in a world where the traditionalist views no longer seem to matter, and Harshwardhan (Saif Ali Khan), the prince seeing both the tradition and beyond it, seemed somehow empty. What could've been a wonderfully complex tale gets squeezed into just under two hours, and the one song number only seems distracting. There is enormous potential in the cast of talented actors, the interesting set-up and amazing pictures - the cinematography of the film remains memorable. But even so, I was left feeling frustrated. It's simply not as good as it could be, or even as good as it should be.

A year goes by and eventually I bought the DVD, because I'm superficial and will purchase any movie where Saif Ali Khan looks this good in. In the back of my head I also knew I'd have to rewatch it one day and give it the benefit of the doubt. Rewatches often shape my views on films a lot - for better or for worse.

The second time around I understood the core of the story better. VVC is not an amazing director, and the family melodrama that he sinks into the plot of Eklavya is similar to the other film I've seen by him, Mission Kashmir. In many ways this film tries to be a Hollywoodian Hindi movie, but sticks its roots firmly in the filmi traditions of familial bonds, in such a way that it just feels cliché. On my second viewing, I was more accepting of this fact, but even after I've come to terms with the fact, the film is somehow less than the sum of its parts. The imagery is gorgeous, some of the performances are great (Saif, biased as I may be saying this, gives his character some interesting depth, Sanjay Dutt as a lower caste cop has only a few scenes but is very effective in them, Boman Irani delivers and I once again adored Raima Sen) and certain scenes really stand out in their execution (a certain dark scene, the narration during the credits, the final confrontation).

All in all, I wish this film had a better script - one that gave screen time to the backstory and all the different characters, their motivations and thoughts. It's basically a Bollywood story with a Hollywood script, and this is why both need to play on their own yards for now. The longwindedness of Indian cinema, the jumps in time and place, the song numbers that take place in the plane of imagination, all of these lend to the storytelling of a good Hindi film. When you take away all of that, what's left isn't a good film - at best its a summary of a good film, which is exactly what Eklavya feels like.

8 comments:

ajnabi said...

Arg, I still really want to see this, if only because it's the only other Saif/Vidya pairing outside of Parineeta. (Don't even try to compete with me in the superficiality department! LOL) But Netflix isn't taking out of the "Saved" section of my queue anytime soon, I fear.

Anita said...

I agree, it was a disappointment. I kind of feel like it was lacking a soul. Everything that needed to be there was there, but it just didn't hit the viewer. The execution was somehow lacking...

memsaab said...

I too was disappointed in it the first time I saw it. I liked it much better the second time I saw it and got more nuance from it then, although I agree---it could have/should have been much better, given the talent involved.

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

lols- we all seem to be saying the sme thing- it could have been so much more than it turned out to be. I loved the cinematogrphy no end- but it seemed that between shooting in gorgeous locales and the whole family thing, the director passed up on what a cool historical mystery this could have been...

Filmi Girl said...

It's basically a Bollywood story with a Hollywood script...

I totally agree! I enjoyed certain parts of Eklavya - like Sanju's role and the Massive Angst of Amitabh - but there was such potential wasted.

We didn't have a long enough introduction for sure, and that, as I've come to realize, is part of what sets Bollywood apart from Hollywood. Bolly viewers want to know who is related to whom; why people are friends or enemies, etc. etc. Hollywood glosses over all of this in 5-10 minutes, which is what Eklavya did. It could have used a good extra half an hour up front.

madaboutMaddy said...

“The longwindedness of Indian cinema, the jumps in time and place, the song numbers that take place in the plane of imagination, all of these lend to the storytelling of a good Hindi film. When you take away all of that, what's left isn't a good film - at best its a summary of a good film…” This is an excellent remark, thank you! I’ve been intensively watching Bollywood for some years now, and have a strong impression that Indian cinema is trying to follow Hollywood patterns, gradually leaving behind all that makes it so different. There are songs, but the characters very often don’t dance and sing at all. Village has disappeared almost completely as film setting (except for the Southern cinema). Raj Kapoor’s heros wouldn’t survive today any more, neither on the screen nor at the box office. I am perfectly aware of the fact that Indian movie goers are changing too, and India itself isn’t the same land as even 10 years ago, but I hope that we won’t end up one fine day in a global Movie-Mart where all film characters live in New York or Sidney and talk endlessly about their frustrating life. Or maybe I am too pessimistic? Greetings.

veracious said...

ajnabi - Well, they both do look good in it. Just remember it's not romance-focused like Parineeta..

anita - Lack of soul is something other reviews mentioned. I pretty much agree.

memsaab - I got more nuance from it too on the 2nd watch but I sort of wished the good scenes had been more frequent. It's kind of like a short music album, where because it's so short, you forget there were some good songs on it because so many of the songs were merely meh.

shweta - Yeah, we all seem to be in agreement on the movie! Kind of amusing. :D

filmi_girl - I think in HW movies it doesn't really matter who's friends/enemies with whom - they keep the essentials in the story but in Bollywood they're more free to go into tangents and different directions. There are so many differences, basically.

madaboutMaddy - I hate to be cynical about modern cinema because it can be just as good as oldies. So I don't know if BW is going HW on that aspect, as a whole.. Certain BW movies perhaps, Eklavya being an unfortunately bad example.

Daddy's Girl said...

Totally agree with your last paragraph - very well said. I can't help thinking that VVC was thinking 'Oscar entry' when he made this one, and that he tried to achieve a Hollywood gloss (and length) at the expense of the 'flesh' of the story. The acting was really good but I amways think the actors must have been a bit frustrated, because in the end, there wasn't as much for them to do as there could've been.