Dharma, the Elizabethan Way
By ANDY WEBSTER
Published: February 15, 2007
Dharma, the time-honored concept of proper conduct, is a recurrent notion in "The Royal Guard," a somber drama directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra ("Kareeb"), and while the film takes place in the present, it clearly has a heart for the classics, particularly those of Eastern philosophy, Shakespeare and genre cinema.
A dying aristocratic matriarch reveals her long-past affair with the devoted family sentry, Eklavya (Amitabh Bachchan), prompting the ire of her husband. Soon it is revealed that her son, Harshwardhan (Saif Ali Khan) — alienated by the strictures of his home, he has been in London and has only recently returned — is Eklavya's progeny.
When the patriarch is killed by his brother and nephew, the loyal Eklavya, a fading warrior still handy with daggers, is compelled to avenge him. He must also come to terms with his son, and with a police officer (the Bollywood veteran Sanjay Dutt) who suspects him of murder.
Shakespeare's 18th Sonnet ("Shall I compare thee ...") is twice invoked in "Guard," and the film's dark palace interiors and scheming evoke "Macbeth." But the swooping camera movements, slow motion and dexterous derring-do conjure martial arts movies; arid desert scenes suggest the western; and a spooky confrontation in a villain's screening room almost plays like the 1960 British thriller "Peeping Tom."
The main tribute in "Guard," however, is to Mr. Bachchan, an aging Bollywood monument (and father of the rising actor Abhishek Bachchan), whose sunken, heavy-lidded eyes, grizzled countenance and noble bearing indisputably convey the presence of a seasoned star.
THE ROYAL GUARD
Opens today in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area.
Produced and directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra; written (in Hindi, with English subtitles) by Mr. Chopra, Abhijat Joshi and Swanand Kirkire; director of photography, Nataraja Subramanian; music by Shantanu Moitra; production designer, Nitin Chandrakant Desai; released by Eros International. Running time: 107 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Amitabh Bachchan (Eklavya), Saif Ali Khan (Prince Harshwardhan), Sanjay Dutt (Pannalal Chohaar), Vidya Balan (Rajeshwari), Boman Irani (Rana Jaywardhan), Jackie Shroff (Jyotiwardhan), Jimmy Shergill (Udaywardhan), Raima Sen (Nandini), Parikshit Sahni (Omkar Singh) and Sharmila Tagore (Suhasini Devi).