© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
Amitabh Bachchan as Eklavya in   

© Vinod Chopra Films PVT LTD. All rights reserved.

Within the first ten minutes or so of EKLAVYA -
Chopra quotes from both The Mahabharata (the
story of Ekalavya, the low-born prince who
studied and mastered archery in the absence of
his king who upon his return demanded the
boy's right thumb as payment for the lessons)
and from Shakespeare (sonnet number 18).
Thus Chopra and his co-writer Abhijat Joshi not
only draw parallels between the two literary
traditions, but combine them in an amalgam
that results in a very entertaining melodramatic
feature film.

Although set in contemporary times,
is very much about royalty, court intrigue and
romance. Drawing on both eastern and western
traditions, the story is set in Rajasthan. As the
film opens, we hear a voice (that of Bollywood
star Amitabh Bachchan) telling the tale from
The Mahabharata. It turns out that the
narrator's name is also Eklavya and he was
once a court intimate of the king (Boman Irani)
and queen (Sharmila Tagore). Queen
Suhasinidevi is now on her deathbed and when
she murmurs Eklavya's name, her husband
smothers her in the presence of their
mentally-challenged daughter Nandini (Raima
Sen). It turns out the monarch was sterile and
to guarantee a successor, the queen took
Eklavya as her lover and bore two children.

Her son Prince Harshwardhan (Saif Ali Khan)
returns for her funeral which doesn't sit too well
with his scheming uncle Jyotiwardhan (Jackie
Shroff) or his cousin Udaywardhan (Jimmy
Shergill), both of whom have their eye on the
throne. Harsh (as he's called) also renews his
romance with the chauffeur's daughter Rajjo
(Vidya Balan).

At about the halfway mark, the king is
assassinated and Eklavya carries the guilt over
not being able to protect him. He does ferret
out the killers though, and extracts vengeance
according to the laws of
dharma or duty. As the
events unfold, there is a major twist that has
tragic implications for all involved.

The production design and cinematography are
eye catching and lovely, particularly the
interiors of the castle (actually shot at a hotel).

The cast is a mixed bag with top honors going
to Balan, Khan, and especially Bachchan who
anchors the film with his performance.

Although the film moves at a brisk pace and is
relatively short by Bollywood standards, it feels
somewhat truncated. Still, Chopra is to be
commended for crafting an enjoyable
melodrama that marries opposite but
complementary traditions.

Rating:                B
MPAA Rating:      NONE
Running time:     105 mins.