Actors: Hrithik Roshan, Priyanka Chopra, Sanjay Dutt, Rishi Kapoor
Genre: Action Drama
Rating: 3.5/5

When you hear ‘Agneepath’, what comes to your mind? If you are second generation or generation X, you are probably recalling Amitabh Bachchan sitting lopsided on a chair, going ‘Vijay. Deenanath. Chauhan’. This 2012 version does nothing to change that. That said, as the case is with any remake, Agneepath has been made to undergo a trial by fire, to see how the new ensemble of cast and crew match up, given the same story. Written by Santosh Saroj, the plot, set in Mandwa (MH), is about a boy losing his father and forced to quit the village because of the local don’s wrongdoings. Fifteen winters later, the boy, rising through the street ranks and eventually building and owning an underworld cadre, is now a young man ready to take on his detractors. The journey and power struggle of this vengeful man, is Agneepath explained.

Hrithik is bound to be compared to Amitabh, no prizes for guessing. But Hrithik has justified his role as Vijay Deenanath Chauhan by interpreting it differently, or say, portraying a different version of the protagonist. While Bachchan was stern and ruthless in the original, Hrithik as Vijay Deenanath Chauhan, is gloomy, mellow, compassionate yet full of smouldering anger, and sly. The screenplay is slightly different in the first half, and greatly affects how Vijay grows powerful, by double-crossing his own master – something that Hrithik has used to his advantage. Hrithik does not do an occasional ‘Poora naam..Vijay Deenanath Chauhan..haaiin’, but more than makes up with his expressions, and his moments of silence. Unlike Bachchan in a white suit, Hrithik’s version of VDC is more tapori-ike and continues to live in jeans and a button-down shirt. Amitabh immortalized VDC by creating a mysterious aura around the character, but owing to the barrage of underworld-based movies in this last decade, Hrithik’s VDC although interesting, is not intriguing and probably won’t be placed on a pedestal.

Kaancha Cheena is meaner this time around. Kaancha [when lived up by Danny Denzongpa] used to be imagined as a man dressed in a crisp suit, standing at the nose of a yacht and overlooking the Arabian sea. But Sanjay’s portrayal of Kaancha will have a long-lasting impression – the ugly, bald and burly midde-aged man with shaven eyebrows, who makes verses from the Gita like ‘Tum kya leke aaye the, aur kya leke jaaoge’ appear sinister. His eccentricities come out when he’s hanging someone to death, or beating someone to pulp. This is the darkest role Sanjay has played till date and he does it like a stalwart. Sanju packs a punch in his punch dialogues as well, sometimes making Hrithik’s delivery appear colder. Clearly this is one of Sanju’s finer performances. The original had a Krishnan Iyer, Yem Yay, which this version has done away with. Instead, a character called Rauf Lala has been brought in. Played by Rishi Kapoor, Rauf is a girl seller and a power-hungry druglord always thwarting Kancha’s moves to enter the Mumbai drug ring. Rishi has been more experimental with his roles recently, and he takes this role head on. Although not characterized very differently from similar Bollywood characters in the recent past (a la Pankaj Kapur in Maqbool), Rishi brings his charisma and his angry outbursts to celluloid, like no other. His Urdu diction suits; his ruthless, villainous streak is new to most of the audiences and does he sparkle! Priyanka has a role that is only as significant as, Katrina’s in the item song ‘Chikni Chameli’. But Katrina does not pull it off, especially with the expressions. You’d ponder if Madhuri, in Kat’s place, would have killed it.

Director Karan Malhotra has had a tough set of responsibilities – one, to re-direct a cult film and maintain its spirit if not perking it up, two, to manage a super starcast, and three, to keep up the reputation of a mega production house; and ‘awesome’ has to be the operative word when we talk about his work. Even though the story had a blueprint to follow, it would still have been difficult to re-create the 90s on the screen, without glitches, to completely re-write Vijay Deenanath Chauhan – his look, his mannerisms and make sure it comes out alright,; ditto for Kaancha Cheena; to create Rauf Lala and use him in building a new screenplay; and manage to maintain the dramatic nature of events – all this in your first film as Director! As a director, Karan has used all of the actors’ strengths, and no single performance can be underrated, including Priyanka’s. I personally always felt that Mukul Anand’s Agneepath was a little rushed, in that, there is no proof how someone rises power, wins over people and eventually throws the gauntlet to someone as terrorizing as Kaancha Cheena. This credit must also go to the screenwriters – Karan, again, and Ila Dutta Bedi for adding more conviction to the storyline. While the first half is super impressive, the second half doesn’t match up, as the turn of events is quick. Karan and Ila have fixed one basic thing that was missing in the original – that VDC’s mission in life be highlighted at regular intervals, and thus dictate other events – so you see VDC talking about it, thinking about it, and although VDC earns money off drug trade, he continues to maintain a low profile, only keeping what is necessary to usurp Mandwa village – Rauf Lala’s network and henchmen.

Cinematgraphy by Ravi K Chandran and Kiran Deohans necessitates special mention, mainly because of their effort to create the 90s again- the Ambassadors, the Maruthi Gypsies, the landline telephones, the clothing, you name it. The art direction by Sabu Cyril for the Mumbai chawl where VDC resides, and Mandwa, which is Kaancha’s abode, both have specific respective colour tones that have been very well complemented by the camera. While the chawl is always full of people, washed colourful clothes being dried out, and festivities, Mandwa is all black, with a withered banyan tree, little light, poor peasants – a visual contrast much needed to create the drama. For a movie that would be compared with the original frame:frame, Ravi and Kiran have done enough to make this film a standalone, visually at least. Background music by Ajay-Atul is mind-boggling. If you found the violence gory, turning the audio off would bring the feeling a couple of notches lower. Same goes for the intense give-take drama between mother and son. Kaancha is shown to be an eccentric person, but again, the background score has had a decent role to play.

Why 3.5/5:
The good: Performances – specially by Hrithik and Sanjay; the screenplay (esp in the first half); the action sequences, the art direction; the cinematography; the background score
The bad: Quicker-than-required screenplay in second half; the wrong ‘chikni chameli’ [Kat]; the music in general; Somewhat thanda diction of Hrithik, when compared to Sanju’s.


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