Thursday, December 31, 2009

eklavya: a Shakespearean almost-tragedy of dharmatic proportions

February 17, 2007

Vidhu Vinod Chopra's conceit of years finally finds its home in this film with an iTrans-friendly title. The immensely talented and abrasively outspoken filmmaker finally manages a marriage of story and spectacle with his quietly dramatic and visually magnificent mix of royal custom, intrigue, duty, vengeance and Shakespeare. His pride and confidence in this powerhouse of a simple film are justified. The script makes way for showpieces (the pre-intermission camel/train sequence, the killing of Uday; the killing of Jyoti) while including little details in a manner similar to that lovely little murder mystery called Khamosh made several years ago. There's a lot of craft on display to aid the telling of this tale (lots of low angle shots and even a vertigo zoom).

It's hard not to miss VVC's reference to his oeuvre. Uday (Jimmy Shergill –- or Sheirgill, according to the credits) sits in his private theatre watching Parinda, VVC's last memorable film. The scene unfolding is the killing of Prakash (Anupam Kher) at Kabutarkhana. This is when Eklavya arrives to kill him and, risking either scorn or acclaim, VVC stages the whole killing in darkness (playing on Eklavya's ability to follow sound). As a triviamonger, it's hard not to read into these references. In Parinda, as Karan and Francis make their way through the hotel room, there's a film playing on the television set: the scene in question features a TV set playing the shower scene in Psycho. If memory serves me right, that's Khamosh. And now VVC adds a reference to Parinda in this film. All we have to do now, presumably, is wait to spot a reference to this film and we'll discover the next edition in this series of smaller, more interesting films from the man.

The other setpiece appears near the end of the film as a wonderful tracking shot over chhatriis (thanks to a 175 ft rail erected in 3 days on top of a hill).

The background score is loaded with puriyaa dhaanashrii and there's just one song, चन्दा रे चन्दा रे, with which VVC weaves the familiar Bollywood cinematic device deftly into the narrative; it's a simple melody set in a 14-beat cycle, just like बावरा मन, the Moitra creation from Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, which it reminds me of. The mild orchestration denies the song any diegetic value, much like दो नैनों में आँसू भरे हैं from Gulzar's Khushboo. The vocal channels S. D. Burman in the lyricless refrain and the percussion strongly echoes मेघा छाये from Sharmilee.

The credits contain several familiar names (Rajendra Hirani, Pradeep Sarkar as visual director) and twists (in Salil Chowdhury/Do Bigha Zameen fashion, music director Shantanu Moitra has a credit for assistance on the script). There's also an acknowledgement for L K Advani and special thanks to Shah Rukh Khan.

The making of the film has a long history and was something I scoured the Internet for after having watched the film. I have to admit entering the hall with some trepidation and doubt (after all, since Parinda it looked like VVC was still struggling with his craft and the compromise of the Bollywood idiom and churning out unsatisfying fare like Kareeb and 1942: A Love Story). Eklavya: The Royal Guard, thankfully, proved that the craftsman was still alive and kicking. Welcome back VVC.

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