Cent Per cent

The gate was still the same bulk of unceremonious iron but the rust was gone for good. Probably one of the government grants had come good for a change. The pine trees, defining the narrow path to the modest entrance, swayed their gesture of welcome that brought a twinkle to the professor’s weary eyes. This acknowledgment was some green respite from the blistering heat of his career track.

The corridor bore the customary dead look that pervades the expanse of an educational institution during a vacation break. The gaudy fonts of sign boards atop the wooden doors of dimly-lit chambers reluctantly declared the respective authority surrounding the names – clerical, administrative and faculty - in no particular order. The names of course had changed.

With nobody in sight to act as his tourist guide, the professor set out on his own …..The tour, after all, was his official path for nearly two decades. As he climbed the creaking stairs, he looked around for some form of objection to his expedition, formal or otherwise, but nobody seemed to care a damn about this quiet intrusion. The hushed vicinity of the first floor was mercilessly overpowered by the strong stench of urine and the professor knew the exact location of this nasal terrorism. The ghastly toilet on the extreme left next to the Common room was still the lowest priority for the institute, in true Indian tradition. Few things never change.....even across generations.

With quiet authority, he marched to the cubicle that was once his professional abode. The room, complete with electrical fittings, window sills and furniture was exactly the same. Except for the huge, unadorned wooden chairs perhaps…the mantle of accommodating the institute’s intellectual pride had now been passed on to the smart generation of their plastic counterparts.

Just when he was about to conclude on the complete absence of human existence in the whole expanse, he heard hurried footsteps in his direction. It was the dean, he found out later in the ensuing and absorbing conversation…He found it rather amusing to find the highest authority for sole company in the scholarly abandonment of the place.

This was the dean’s second year in the reckoning and the professor was glad to acknowledge some enthusiasm in the dean’s earnest eyes. The dean, in turn, was pleased to note that this visit was unofficial, a walk down memory lane. This mutual happiness made way for some engrossing conversation. Times had truly changed, the dean lamented – there were hardly any takers for archeology and history these days. Even among the few who lose their way to this place, the majority drop out midway, he revealed a dark secret in hushed tone.

The dean offered tea but was glad to note the refusal from the other end. That saved him some embarrassment. There was no one around to make tea. With mechanical promises exchanged to keep in touch, they parted ways and the dean felt the need to escort the professor to the gate in what seemed like genuine respect for yesteryear faculty. Just as the professor looked back at the building for one last time, he spotted a familiar figure walking towards him –this was Dias- the chirpy peon from his teaching days, now probably in his early fifties and uncharacteristically subdued.

The professor was unknowingly swept over by the unusual reunion. Not knowing how to celebrate this fag-end ecstasy, he searched his pockets on an impulse. Dias took the weathered hundred rupee note, speechless and spellbound. They shook hands in a gesture that was devoid of any formal orchestration. As prominent as the unmistakable delight at the sudden monetary gain, the moist eyes of Dias also revealed the warmth of heartfelt gratitude. The professor didn’t care if the latter came wrapped in a commercial transaction. He seemed obsessed with the unadulterated bliss.

In the low-scoring subjects that he taught all his life, there was no student who could have done him proud with cent per cent result. The bliss that Dias gifted him was hundred per cent. And he was only thankful that Dias was not his student.

Chopra's Eklavya

Vidhu Vinod Chopra's Eklavya brings a breath of fresh air in the Bollywood chaos. It may not be an exemplary film but Chopra presents a personal viewpoint in style, more importantly within the framework of commerical cinema.

Using the motif of Eklavya - the epitome of sacrifice in the epic Mahabharata - Chopra weaves a story of a selfless royal guard, who in the course of his duty comes to terms with the fact that Dharma sans intellect can prove self-defeating. Not as subtly as one would have liked it, but Chopra does succeed in questioning the tradition of glorifying sacrifice in the name of Dharma.

This is undoubtedly one of Amitabh's greatest performances till date, at par with his roles in movies like Alaap, Saudagar, Anand and the recent Black. Whether it's his matter-of-fact acts of unmindful loyalty or the tug of war between royal duty and parental love - Amitabh breathes his character to lift the pathos of Eklavya to a level rarely scaled on Indian celluloid. It's heartening to lose the trademark Big B embossing his stardom at the cost of the theme.

Chopra's admiration for Ritwik Ghatak is well-known. In many ways, Eklavya comes closer to Ghatak's obsession with mythological motifs layered with deeper meanings lurking in tragic situations. But this proximity does not produce the same magic that Ghatak spun time and again with his cinematic folklore. Unlike Ghatak, Chopra tries to simplify an imagery that's simple in essence but very much like Ghatak , he takes a big risk with an offbeat theme. It would invariably take a Ralph Fiennes to appreciate the effort.

Jackie Shroff and Sanjay Dutt - both Chopra favourites for long - are absolutely fascinating - the scene of a turban-tying Jackie swearing his frustration under his breath with a scowling Jimmy Shergill for company is amazing. Even lyricist Sadanand Kirkire in his debut comic avataar is endearing.

The lenght of the film is apt - one could have been easily tempted to exploit the desert in true Bollywood style - but not Chopra. His use of a Shakespeare sonnet against the backdrop of Rajasthan is a masterstroke. Bachchan and Parikshit Sahani with their innocent stares at the king's pompous recital of a phirang composition complement the sonnet's magic.

On the flip side, the child voice-over at the start of the film seems an overt simplification of the theme, probably with the audience in mind. With the exception of Bachchan, all players struggle with the taxing pronunciations and intonations and some of Bommon Irani's loud gestures - a needless underlining to convey deceitful endeavours - could have been checked.