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Agneepath  : Back to the 80s
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Thursday, January 26, 2012
Karan Malhotra
Hrithik Roshan, Priyanka Chopra, Sanjay Dutt, Rishi Kapoor, Katrina Kaif (item song)
Agneepath Movie Stills
In an era of script-hazy superheroes, swarming rom-coms and testosterone-wrapped action films, a lavish tribute to the original Agneepath (1990) arrives and jet-flies you stormily between the ruins of Mandwa and risqué Mumbai, harking back to an old-world charm that revives the taste of revenge-dripping heroes.

The plot: Young Viju aka Vijay Dinanath Chauhan (Hrithik Roshan) unblinkingly glares with seething angst into the eyes of Kancha Cheena (Sanjay Dutt) as he witnesses the murder of his upright father Master Dinanath Chauhan. Masterji of Mandwa has been viciously dragged and hanged by Kancha, a law unto himself, goaded on by a misdirected wave of villagers. 15 years later a confident Vijay, clad in a white shirt returns to avenge his father’s death, ready for war.  Vijay has spent 15 years putting into practice his father’s preaching – that you take on a powerful opponent only when you have acquired enough power yourself. With an unwavering eye on revenge, Vijay cleverly seeks shelter under the umbrella of the wicked Rauf Lala (Rishi Kapoor), Asia’s biggest slum-lord, kingpin of the prostitution and drug business. Importantly, Rauf is repulsed by the very sight of Kancha and won’t allow him to set foot out of Mandwa and into Mumbai. Meanwhile, Vijay’s disapproving mother Suhasini (Zarina Wahab, effortlessly efficient) keeps his baby sister out of his life but there is ‘family’ in the form of the overfriendly neighbourhood beauty parlourwali Kaali (Priyanka). But it is essentially a lone warrior’s battle unto death.

The good: Comparisons to the original are inevitable when you remake a much-recognised franchise. However, the new Agneepath retains the nuances of the old while creating a fresh identity for itself. Take it as a given: this Agneepath is no meek imitation of its inspiration. The strongest point of the film is Hrithik Roshan who sheds his designer Greek god persona to step brilliantly into the chappals of the Mandwa boy. Blending easily into the gritty chawl life of Mumbai, he has the power of presence and performance to stand up to the towering personality of Amitabh Bachchan without once reminding you of the original Vijay Dinanath Chauhan. Sanjay Dutt as evil incarnate Kancha blows away the softer Kancha of Danny Denzongpa. Dutt’s all-black threads hanging loosely over a bulky tattooed body, menacing baldness, ring in one ear and exaggerated wicked guffaw generate the right amount of goosebumps. But the epic villain of the piece would easily be the kohl-eyed Rishi Kapoor who oozes raw cruelty with subtlety and no loud laughter. His is a truly brilliant act aided as he is by only his performance and no overt accessories.

The script and screenplay by Karan Malhotra and Ila Bedi Datta are averagely engaging, as it is the lavish and overawing treatment that overtakes all else. The direction by Karan Malhotra is safe enough to not harm the previous Agneepath and yet have its own story to tell for a long three hours. For this the debut-making director does away with certain signature characters (like nariyalwala-turned-bodyguard Mithun who brought a light touch of relief to the original) and brings in a prominent new one in the effective Rauf Lala. Karan also places the vital line of introduction: ‘Vijay, Vijay Chauhan, Vijay Dinanath Chauhan’ in a different part of the remake, managing to keep it just as intense, although the old good cop  Vikram Gokhale (with his sindoor ki dibbi) had a far better presence than Om Puri in Agneepath refreshed.

 As with all Karan Johar productions, Agneepath too, is grand on all fronts whether it is in its characterisations or in its picturisation.The cinematography by Ravi K Chandran and Kiran Deohans is brilliant and the shots taken from the gloomy Mandwa banyan tree to the bustling Mumbai chawl are picture-perfect. Dialogues by Piyush Mishra also add some spark to the otherwise usual twists and turns and add power to the characters. The film is high-octane and has tonnes of melodrama with a full-fledged hero to whistle for and a full-blown villain to fear.

The bad: The film’s elongated duration could have been shorter, crisper and thus more powerful. Priyanka Chopra as Kaali seems a half-heartedly written accessory not really necessary in the core narrative. In fact Priyanka’s earlier outing as a Maharashtrian mulgi in Kaminey was shorter but packed a much better wallop.The climax is truly a return to the 80s when Hrithik returns and blows up Mandwa, a dramatic visual effect not really required. Since the three-hour long tension that was created on how Vijay would eventually kill the dreaded Kancha begins with the smart strategy of following his dad’s preaching, it climaxes rather weakly with Vijay looking naively unarmed and unprepared. He has an agenda without a blueprint for battle. A smarter construction of the climax would have been better   appreciated.

Overall: it’s a win-win remake for retaining the lingering flavour of the old while whipping up a visual banquet of its own.

Pooja Thakkar

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