Agneepath

Agneepath
Director: Karan Malhotra

Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Sanjay Dutt, Om Puri, Priyanka Chopra, Zarina Wahab

Indian Express rating: ***

This one is more an adaptation than a faithful remake of the 1990 original. Which is a good thing, because with the new characters and plotpoints, and minus some of the old stuff, the 2012 'Agneepath' becomes its own film, which works precisely because it's both a tribute and a stylish re-invention of the 70's-spilling-into-the-80s retribution formula.

Twelve-year-old Vijay Dinanath Chauhan (Roshan) and his mother flee the dark island of Mandwa, just off Mumbai, after his idealistic school-teacher father's brutal death at the hands of the evil Kancha (Dutt). For those who remember Mukul S Anand's 'Agneepath' with Amitabh Bachchan, this is a recognisable framework. Some other characters, and their names, have been retained, but their arcs are determinedly not the same.

Hrithik Roshan makes for a very different Vijay, less dramatic, less showy, and he is made to leapfrog over a new villain before he can get to his old enemy: Rishi Kapoor plays Rauf Lala, a soorma-eyed baddie who dabbles in drugs and damsels and is one of the assets of the new film.

Debutant director Malhotra does well in keeping away from the self-conscious over-styled retro-cool tone adopted by most directors trying to remake/adapt classics: a large part of the enjoyment I found in the film came from watching a bunch of actors going through their parts not with a knowing nudge-and-wink, but in all earnestness. Otherwise, how can you even look at this Kancha, in his flowing black robes, bald pate, and fat ear-ring, without laughing out loud?

Ironically, Dutt as Kancha is the weakest part of the film, all costume-puffery, without dredging up one iota of the menace required from an irredeemably bad guy, who loves slaloming his victims off rocky cliff walls when he is not stringing them up on the island's 'bargad' tree. The bouncing-of-upside-down-humans-against-cliffs is more like a jokey ping pong game, which is at variance with the rest of 'Agneepath', which takes its job of delivering mainstream masala, with familiar-but-fading set-pieces, seriously: pregnant woman delivering baby on footpath, a girl about to suffer fate worse than death, a villain and his 'nachaniya' in his sinister den, and so on.

This would have been a more effective film with if the connections between the characters and their lines had been tighter, if the film had been crisper. If Badman Dutt had not grinned so much. And if the horribly loud background music didn't make it its business to tell me how to feel in every frame. Hrithik does well with being dressed down, and with the song and the dance and the welling-up-of-tears, but falters when it comes to a killing flare in the eyes: Roshan Jr on a rampage is just not as credible. But then I could also understand the dilemma of producer Karan Johar, whose father Yash Johar made the original: if not Hrithik, who? Certainly not Abhishek, who, if he had been a different actor, would have been the obvious choice of a Vijay Dinanath Chauhan reprise.

Om Puri is the cop Gaitonde who is sympathetic towards both boy-and-man Vijay. Zarina Wahab plays Vijay's mother, and fittingly has a more visible role than Priyanka Chopra's, who plays the love interest: in a KJo film, it's always about the mom, sweethearts come later. There's also Katrina In and As Chikni Chameli, whose giddy 'jhatkas' redefines the limits of itemgirl jigginess. And I have to say I'm truly happy that the film leaves out the monumentally silly Mithun Chakraborty track of the original: that Krishan Iyer MA was just plain hideous cheese.

Most importantly, at the end, there's enough of a payoff. 'Agneepath' is old style revenge drama which does well on the whole, despite its plot holes and a slackened second half, with executing genre conventions. Old fashioned popcorn with 'namak' and 'mirch', not caramel, nor any other au courant variation: you like, your film.

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