Eklavya is a visual masterpiece that certainly scores points for originality. Chopra constantly pushes the envelope for Bollywood in this regard. And there is no doubt that he is a master of the mise-en-scene. As a director, he stamps his authority with brilliantly imagined visual setups that leave you thinking, ďI havenít seen that done before.Ē Take for example the scene where Eklavya takes a dip into his past when his mother hands him the title of the Royal Guard after his father drowns. The scene is stylized as an underwater POV, managing to convey a flashback in a wholly relevant and original way.
There are other scenes too that clearly stand out as a result of extensive out-of-the-box thinking: like the scene where Eklavya targets a ghungroo tied to the leg of a flying pigeon. Here is a scene that is only intended to astound, a high-point though not central to the plot. The dramatic effect is enhanced cleverly with two relatively minor motions: the first when the ghungroo gets stuck on a ledge, and the second when Eklavya saunters into the fountain to catch it. This is truly the difference between an imaginative director and a pedestrian one.
Other scenes that are cleverly designed to impressive, however, donít work so well with the audience: the key scene, the one youíve seen plastered all over the promo in actuality is the promo itself. Youíve seen it all before in the teasers, so that takes away significantly from the importance of this scene. Given the centrality of this incident, Chopra has faltered because the scale is cheated and wholly apparent. The timing of the train and the endless stream of camels (of which we never see a long shot Ė easily achieved with CG) leave you suspecting contrivance. Even the showdown between Shergill and Bachchan in the complete darkness (a two minute sequence on black, with only sound) leaves the audience a little frustrated, considering the end is so predictable.
Predictability is the filmís biggest bane. At no point really is the audienceís gray muscle flexed to question what happens next or who or what mustíve happened to result in this or that. Everything is simply laid out on a platter. Everyone knows who is Saifís father the moment Saif makes an entry. Itís ridiculous to keep audiences in the know and your characters in the dark, because when the moment of revelation arrives for them, the audience, instead of sympathizing, merely mocks at the characterís foolishness of being unable to spot it before. Itís tragic, because this is a good story treated with disregard. The structure of the sceneflow is left wanting because the twists arenít working, the rivalries arenít surfacing, the details are clunky (you mean Jackieís character did it for the money? A painting gives it away? School theatre stuff), and any bout of serious emotional gulp moments missing entirely. If an Indian film fails to move you, it fails. And with his recent spate of movies as a producer, especially Munnabhai, youíd think Chopra would have flooded theaters with patronsí tears when it came to his own film.
There are other problems too. Having spent a little time in the company of a Maharana, I know that life isnít quite like as portrayed though the basics are in place. While Saif arriving form London in a Ďcopter is entirely real, the complete absence of people (family, staff, tourists even maybe) in and around the Rana and his palace is not very convincing. The villagers track could have been much more significant. They seem to be quite content to get back the land that was theirs in the first place. What irrelevant nonsense.
PerformancesÖ Ah. Would you believe it? The filmís short length of 110 minutes works against it. Indian stars, it is now deduced, need the screen time to build their graph and compassion in the viewerís mind. Really. All characters were one-dimensional (not be confused with good decision making ability as the plot contrives its way to equate Bachchan with the original Eklavya) and barely have enough time to utter their lines. This leaves Jackie Shroff entirely incomprehensible throughout the film. I didnít catch a single word he said. Balan is slowly becoming ever more repetitive and the Balan-Khan burlesque of Parineeta couldíve seen something fresher and perhaps, deeper. When was the last time a Rana-in-waiting from London married the driverís daughter without blinking an eyelid? Jimmy ainít so bad as the bad boy, his play enlivening proceedings and stimulating other actors into restrain, which is good. Saif seems to be going through the motions mostly, Boman is lost in his wig. Come on, Boman Irani is the finest we got Ė he may not be your stereotypical star Ė but he can act Ė use him please! Integrate the script and his prowess to create subliminal and memorable characters! That leaves Bachchan, who gives it all he can. So did he deserve the Rolls Royce as the bonus? UmmÖ Maybe a nice big SUV would be more justified.
So how do we conclude this criticism? All I can say is that another one bites the dust. First it was Salaam-e-Ishq, and now Eklavya. Two very different films that we expected to tower above the rest, however, we learn that brilliant cinematography, a dream cast (though middling performances), supreme art direction, and all that jazz is simply not enough to make an engaging, good film. What we need is a good script that doesnít patronize the audience and an X factor. This X factor is what keeps Bollywood (or for that matter any film industry in the world) ticking. Itís what sets makersí pulse racing on premier night, itís what makes stars human at the mercy of the lowerstallers, itís what the buzz about the BO is all about. The X factor is what makes great, memorable films. Can you imagine if the code was cracked and every film was perfect and made tons of money? They shouldnít even attempt it. Itíd kill creativity.
Despite itís creativeness and contrary to expectation, Eklavya fails to make the cut.