Vidhu Vinod Chopra defends ‘Eklavya’s Oscar entry

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The producer and director of Eklavya – India’s entry for next year’s Oscars, Vidhu Vinod Chopra , has decried the controversy surrounding its submission.

‘Eklavya’ starring Bollywood mega superstar Amitabh Bachchan in the title role, tells the story of an aging sentry and the secrets of the royal family he protects.

The choice by the Film Federation of India last week set off rumours of bias on the jury with the maker of a little-known movie which was the other main contender now challenging the selection in court.

Chopra bitterly lamented the outcry over the movie he hopes will be among the final five contestants for the foreign film prize in February.

“It has made me so sad,” said an agitated Chopra in New Delhi on Friday.

“This is a movie that is going to represent India. If a jury has sat and decided, for God’s sake be quiet,” he said.

Chopra said his film won a standing ovation at a screening in California to an audience that included Hollywood insiders.

“Judging by the reaction — those guys stayed for a two-and-a-half-hour question-and-answer session — I think it has a good shot,” he said.

But Bollywood observers said the film, that also starred Sanjay Dutt , Saif Ali Khan , Vidya Balan , Jackie Shroff among others, offered sweeping scenes of exotic India but little else.

“Alas, the plot about a bloodbath that erupts in a royal Rajasthan family of today is more contrived than credible,” critic Khalid Mohamed wrote in a daily.

“Inexplicable beheadings, fatal accidents and palace dissension haven’t exactly vanished with the privy purses.”

The Box Office India web site put the film’s earnings at 190 million rupees five weeks into its release. It cost an estimated 150 million rupees to produce.

“But the film was sold to distributors at a high price. Every distributor lost 60 to 70 percent,” said Komal Nahta, editor of the Film Information trade journal. “It was a bad film.”

The other strong contender to be India’s Oscar entry, ‘Dharm’, about a Hindu priest who adopts a four-year-old boy but finds out later he is Muslim, also had little commercial success but has been praised for its strong story.

The Film Federation might have been prompted in its choice of Chopra’s two-hour movie — short by Bollywood standards — by its western reviews.

“Chopra marries its varied elements — modernity and classicism, current-day India and its feudal past, contemporary corruption and blood tradition — in a coherent and propulsive fashion,” wrote John Anderson in the Los Angles Times.

“Chopra is aspiring to epic cinema, both in his themes and his visuals, and most of the time it works.”

The New York Times, without quite praising or damning the film, said it was reminiscent of Shakespeare.

One Bollywood analyst said he would be surprised to see ‘Eklavya’ among the final nominees but stopped short of ruling it out.

“You can never predict. India is the flavour of the season so every two years if they want to, they can select an Indian Miss World or an Indian film,” said film trade analyst Vinod Mehrani.

“If it’s going to be there, it’s not going to be there because of its merit.”

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