By Martin DíSouza, Bollywood Trade News Network
Long after the movie is over and the credit lines have rolled past the screen, you sink in your seat and enjoy what is left of the moment. You linger a while longer in this make-believe world before shaking yourself back to reality. Then, you stand and applaud. Good cinema is alive and kicking. Welcome back Mr Vidhu Vinod Chopra!
What a comeback after MISSION KASHMIR, his last directorial venture, almost seven years ago. The screenplay is brilliant, background score is riveting, add to it super cinematography (Natraja Subramaniam), tight editing (Raviranjan Maitra) peppered with brilliant performances from the star cast and you have what VC calls EKLAVYA Ė THE ROYAL GUARD.
Itís difficult to compare the Amitabh of BLACK to the Amitabh of EKLAVYA. Also, it will be unfair, nay challenging to say which his better performance is. If BLACK was brilliant, EKLAVYA is simply out of this world. One can go on and on about AB but this much is enough to say; he attacks each role with the inquisitive mind of a child who is given a new toy to play with. Thatís what sets him apart from the rest of the clan. Instead of resting on his laurels, he is always in pursuit on polishing his craft. And in a way, woh toh GURU ka bhi baap hai!
If a good picture says a thousand words, Vidhu Vinod Chopra shows us that a good scene needs no words. Especially the scene in the beginning when Saif Ali Khan, who returns from England for his motherís funeral, meets with Amitabh. No words are exchanged. The background score and crafty camera angle does the trick. The film is set in contemporary India. For nine generations Eklavyaís (Amitabh Bachchan) family has guarded the Kings of Devigarh. He has only one purpose: to protect the Devigarh dynasty, the fort and the king. Eklavya has vowed to himself that whatever secrets he knows of the family will die with him on his funeral pyre. Having served the royal family all his life, he is getting old and blind.
The heir of the throne, Prince Harshwardhan (Saif Ali Khan) tired of the unfair customs ruling the land escaped to London but reluctantly returns for the funeral of his mother Queen Suhasinidevi (Sharmila Tagore). The kingdom is overjoyed with his return as is his mentally challenged twin sister, Princess Nandini (Raima Sen) and his childhood sweetheart Rajjo (Vidya Balan).
However the kingdom is torn because the farmers are being stripped of their lands. King Rana Jaywardhan (Boman Irani) along with his brother Rana Jyotiwardhan (Jackie Shroff) support the injustice to the farmers.
Saif Ali Khan has matured as an actor. After PARINEETA and OMKARA, Saif has proved once again that his performance is no flash in the pan. Jimmy Sheirgill (note the spelling change) is promising in a negative role while Sanjay Dutt provides comic relief. Raima Sen and Vidya Balan have given off their best in the limited screen time allotted to them. Jackie Shroff proves that with the right role he can still work his magic. In VCís 1942 Ė A LOVE STORY, his entry was greeted with ceetes and taalis. His performance here is clap worthy.
The first scene itself grips the viewer: Rana Jaywardhan snuffing the life out of his wife, Queen Suhasinidevi in front of his mentally deranged daughter Princess Nandini because she calls out for Eklavya in her unconscious state. Boman Iraniís body language and facial expression, as he chokes his wife, speaks a thousand words. The mood is set. The cameras begin to roll and VC is firmly in control of things. He gives his artistes a grand canvas on which to exhibit their talent with lavish sets and extensively scoured locales. For the viewers, well, he leaves them breathless.
The movie should be called EKLAVYA - A ROYAL TREAT.