There is only one positive in Eklavya (picture left from its Imax launch).
No, not the “Eklavya dilemma”, central to its theme. That incidentally has about as much depth as a grocery-store self-help book parable.
Not the performance of its ensemble cast, which is often uneven.
Not the bleedingly beautiful visuals which try to pack so much artistry and symbolism into each shot that technique often suffuses the narrative.
No not even the intense Amitabh Bachchan who got a Rolls Royce for this role.
What makes Eklavya refreshingly original is that after an eternity of waiting, we finally get to see a palace not filled up by ambiguously happy people leading idyllic lives and dancing in choreographed lock-step while doing Karva Chauth.
Instead we get to see their evil twins. We get to see family dementia. The patriarch isn’t kind and gentle Alok Nath hugging daughter and blessing son. No no. His mind, refreshingly, is full of hatred. He is, again unlike Alok Nath, also impotent. The matriarch dies within the first five minutes and no she does not leave any gajar ka halwa and mooli ki paratha for her brood.
Instead she leaves a letter to her son.
Does it say things like “Please get your father married to his old girl-friend.”? (remember “Kuch Kuch Hota Hain”).
It says “Your real dad is the palace guard.”
The son does arrive in a helicopter (reminding us of “Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam) but does not run straight into a group dance. There are no giggling “sahelis”, no backless cholis, no “chota chota kacha kacha nimbura” songs.
Most importantly, after many years, the importance of the servant in the Indian feudal family has finally been recognized. For too long, the loyal servant character has been sideshifted to people like Laxmikant Berde and the other Ramu chacha types, even when they have often discharged vital roles (like getting the lovers together in “Hum Aapke Hain Kaun”).
Not any more.
This time the loyal servant is Amitabh Bachchan and no he does not cook or clean or tease the nubile maids. He is the guard, who does some amazingly logic-defying stunts like tying a small ornament to the toes of a pigeon, blindfolding himself, throwing a dagger at the flying pigeon so that only the ornament thread is severed and then catching the falling ornament through his knowledge of the Jedi force [besides of course balancing a stick on his nose while sneezing (okay I made that one up)], faces ponderous moral dilemmas, does his “dharma” with aplomb and impregnates the queen in the line of duty, presumably also with his eyes closed.
Of course there is one big fly in the ointment for even this sole positive that I could extract.
That being how after studiously spending all that time creating an atmosphere of feudal atrophy and brooding despondency, Vidhu Vinod Chopra throws it all away in a last ten minutes of such sugar-solution-induced madness that even Sooraj Barjatiya would say “tut-tut” . Seriously, all that was missing was a “Dhiktana” song and a cricket match where the dog is the umpire.
Ah well…no use cribbing.
At least we have our thumbs.
Which I am, for Eklavya, keeping firmly down.