Historically Bollywood has reflected an innate ‘Indian’ morality. Themes may be modernised and customs challenged, but the basics are stagnant and laughable. This month’s releases are therefore a refreshing change, atypical of the highly moralistic conventions usually espoused. Eklavya: The Royal Guard (12A) 107min (4 stars) is a big powerhouse of a movie, the omnipresent Amitabh Bachchan investing the title role with a dignified humility. The film explores the caste system, traditions of historical Raj and ‘honour bound duty’, presented in a compelling action thriller. There are dilemmas aplenty for Saif Ali Khan’s modern day Prince Harshwardhan, torn between established customs, family secrets and challenges of modern Indian democracy. Set in the beautifully filmed palaces of Rajasthan, there is enough political intrigue, drama and great performances (Boman Irani’s slightly camp King Rana and Sanjay Dutt’s ‘untouchable’ police officer in particular) to make this a great, almost epic movie.
Mr Bachchan’s versatility is apparent in Nishabd (15) 120min (4 stars, pictured), the veteran actor playing an ageing 60-year-old photographer tempted by sultry newcomer Jiah Khan (a ‘Lolita-esque’ 18-year-old). Bollywood’s previous depictions of taboo breaking romances have been either shunned by audiences (Ek Chhotisi Love Story) or featured pointless, villainous caricatures (Koyla). Director Ram Gopal Verma’s ability to sustain the affecting drama and psychological turmoil of the married father falling for his daughter’s teenage friend is touching. Obvious comparisons with Lolita are inevitable, but there is much more to this movie. The director succeeds in creating a real emotional resonance while dealing with themes of ageism, infidelity, tradition, and duty. Nishabd is an intelligent and demanding film.
Provoked: A True Story (15) 113min (3 stars) is based on Kiranjit Alhuwalia’s autobiography and follows the remarkable journey of a ‘battered wife’ (Aishwarya Rai), as she is convicted for the murder of her violent abusive husband (Naveen Andrews ?" all the more menacing with his trademark smirk). Director Jag Mundhra’s excellent 2000 film Bawandar depicted child marriage and gang rape in rural India with a sensitivity and rawness, all too rarely experienced in Hindi cinema. Transporting themes of domestic violence to a British setting, with a Bollywood megastar in the lead, Provoked is marred by the unusually graphic nature of the violence. For its humanistic agenda this brutal, moving film does, however, deserve an audience.
Light relief is afforded in debut writer/director Reema Kagti’s Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd (PG) 150min (3 stars). An ensemble romantic comedy following six couples on a package honeymoon tour to Goa. All Indian married life is here - the perfect couple, the elders, the orthodox and the modern day suburbanites. Secrets and lies, and misconceptions and understandings make for an enjoyable ride. This promising debut augers a fresh voice in Bollywood.
All films out now or on selected release from Fri 2 Mar.