There are some movies that make you exclaim - "Now what was that!?" in a not-so-positive sense. 'Eklavya -The Royal Guard' is one such movie.
There are expectations galore when one ventures into theatres to watch 'Eklavya'. And why not? The film has a superb cast in place, the theme looks novel, Vidhu Vinod Chopra returns to direction after 7 years and last but not the least, it looked like a film that carried International appeal.
Alas, what you get in the end is a talk-heavy film that converges into a battle of 'dharma' and love. Nothing wrong with that but the ease with which film culminates leaves the viewer dissatisfied.
The film starts off well. Amitabh Bachchan's narration of 'The Legend of Eklavya' is well worded and kept short and simple as the titles role. Expectations of watching a polished product are raised in the very first few minutes when Rana Jaywardhan [Boman Irani], a psuedo King at Devigarh, is reading a sonnet from Shakespeare to his dying wife Rani [Sharmila Tagore].
Intrigue builds up as Rani's last wishes of seeing Eklavya [Amitabh Bachchan], the Royal Guard of Devigarh, are left unfulfilled by Rana. Each of the members of the family, Jyotiwardhan [Jackie Shroff] (Rana's younger brother), Harshwardhan [Saif Ali Khan] (Rana's son), Nandini [Raima Sen] (Rana's daughter), Udaywardhan [Jimmy Shergill] (Jyoti's son) and Rajjo [Vidya Balan] (Daughter of Rana's chauffer (Parikshit Sahni) and Harsh's childhood sweetheart) are introduced in a jiffy. Just when you start considering yourself sharp enough to start solving the mystery, Vidhu Vinod Chopra throws in a surprise by opening the cards and revealing the suspense.
The movie so far - just around 20 minutes!
One can't help but applaud VVC by this time since any other film maker may have dragged this to the limit but the director here brings on a crisp narrative.
Totally mesmerized by the experience, you surrender to VVC's vision and start looking forward to the scenes that unfold. The film continues to move on well as the jealousy angle is revealed at the end of Jyoti and Uday. Highlight of the proceedings is the outburst scene featuring the two with young Jimmy holding up brilliantly against veteran Jackie.
The film reaches the intermission point with a twist in the tale and a murder happens which no one could actually see coming. Special marks here for the action choreography by Tinu Verma since he excels in combining the fire of bullets with the running of camels in a desert with topping on the cake being a passing train.
One looks forward to an interesting second half of this short movie, especially with anticipation of fireworks from low cast DSP Pannalal Chohar [Sanjay Dutt] who makes a brief appearance in the first half. Roped in for conducting an investigation, he walks away with all the crowd pleasing lines but the length of his role in the film would make his act in 'Anthony Kaun Hai' a full length feature. But more about later!
Nevertheless, this is the phase of the film when things start becoming a little stagnant. Also the hammer strong impact that one would have expected in a 100 minutes odd film is missing. Narrative starts getting talk heavy and even though Eklavya starts 'punishing' the sinners, it becomes predictable after a point.
There is further twist in the tale towards the pre-climax and though it does raise a few eyebrows, it doesn't quite manage to create a shock value as the narrative would have warranted. The climax featuring Amitabh Bachchan and Saif Ali Khan is the point which is an absolute downer and would be hard to be digested by one and all. A scene featuring Sanjay Dutt before the end title roll has a clear Bollywood angle to it and does manage to bring on the chuckles