'If a jury has sat and decided, for God's sake be quiet'

THE DIRECTOR of India's entry for next year's Oscars, a widely panned royal epic set against the sumptuous backdrop of a desert palace, has decried the controversy surrounding its submission.­

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Published: Mon 1 Oct 2007, 11:41 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 12:41 AM

jury'Eklavya - The Royal Guard,' starring Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan and film industry scion Saif Ali Khan, 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.­

Eklavya director Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who has written and produced several hits in recent years, 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, clad in a black shirt and rimless glasses, in New Delhi.­

"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 late on Friday.­

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 set in the western state of Rajasthan 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 the Hindustan Times daily.­

"Inexplicable beheadings, fatal accidents and palace dissension haven't exactly vanished with the privy purses."­

Indian audiences seemed to agree — the Box Office India web site put ticket 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 per cent," 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' (Faith), 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.­

However, recent Oscar foreign film wins have not been Shakespearean classics, but gritty stories of modern conflicts. Germany's 'The Lives of Others,' which won last year, was about East Germany's secret police and oppression in the 1980s.­

India may be the world's most prolific movie producer, but no Indian film has ever won a foreign film Oscar.­

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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