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Mukul S Anand's Agneepath(1990) has an iconic shot - Amitabh Bachchan on a speed boat, the Mauritian sea shining as he hurtles towards his nemesis, played by Danny. It's the first time the grown-up Vijay Dinanath Chauhan is meeting Kancha Cheena, and is a major turning point in the story.
In Karan Malhotra's Agneepath, Vijay travels to Mandwa, a small island where Kancha resides. The water isn't sparkling, the mode of transport is a ferry. And neither Vijay nor Kancha is dressed in a suit. There's an inherent rawness, and it works beautifully given the context. Vijay is returning to the village he was shunted from years ago. The emotional undercurrent is, hence, stronger.
Malhotra's Agneepath oscillates from dark (Mandwa is shot in hues of blue and grey) to colourful (Mumbai in all its splendour), overt melodrama to effective drama, and from hyperbole to, well, less hyperbole. Having thrown subtlety out of the window, Malhotra pays tribute to not just Mukul Anand'sAgneepath, but also to an entire genre of films that lit up screens and fuelled the box office in the 1980s and 1990s. Maa ka pyaar, behen ki izzat, baap ka badla. All of it is doled out in generous measure, Malhotra having a ball recreating the kind of film he probably enjoyed growing up.
An adaptation rather than a remake, the film assumes a life of its own once the central plot has been established -- evil Kancha (Sanjay Dutt) frames principled school teacher, Master Dinanath Chauhan, for a crime that results in his death; son Vijay Chauhan (Hrithik Roshan) returns years later to seek revenge. Having dealt with that in the first 20 minutes (as in the original), the film then charts a journey of his own.
Vijay isn't a middle-aged, rich gang lord with a bevy of supporters. Instead he's younger, lives in a modest chawl room (Kamathipura?), and works for gangster Rauf Lala (Rishi Kapoor). He's a lot more vulnerable, bottling up his emotions even as his eyes well up every now and then. He's also more expressive in his relationships, and some of the film's best moments are those shared by Vijay and his 15-year-old sister.
But he's no soft cookie. Ruthless in his revenge, Vijay is without any moralistic conflicts -- he helps Lala build his empire in spite of his involvement in the drug and prostitution businesses. Hrithik's Vijay is a far cry from Bachchan's, and that works in his favour. No actor of this generation or earlier can possibly match up to Bachchan sitting on a chair, arm pushed back, as he said, "Umar chhatis saal, nau mahina, aath din, yeh solva ghantachalu hai."
The only way to make it work was to rewrite the character differently, which Malhotra does. Hrithik underplays Chauhan, relying on facial expressions rather than dialogue baazi (why straddle him with a typical Bachchan trait). It's refreshing to see Hrithik bereft of glamour and style, and he portrays the angsty, rooted hero well.
The film's emotional quotient is balanced with some brilliant, intense action sequences, none of it slick but packing a solid punch, and captured superbly by two very accomplished cinematographers -- Ravi K Chandran and Kiran Deohans. All the scenes depicting Mandwa, and the Ganesh Chaturti sequence, stay with you thanks to deft camera work, and polished post-production.
You do wish though that the melodrama was kept a little under check, and the background score was less cacophonic. The film plays unabashedly (shamelessly) to the gallery, and you almost feel manipulated at certain places. The weakest bit, perhaps, is the half-baked romance between Vijay and Kali, which does little than keep the run-time longer than required.
Priyanka Chopra sticks out like a sore thumb for no real fault of hers. Her character lacks meat and seems to have been written half-heartedly, and Kali seems almost irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. Cutting her track out would have left the film more intense, crisper and so much shorter. To Priyanka's credit, she delivers in the sole scene she gets to display histrionics, in the pre-climax.
Sanjay Dutt is menacing as Kancha, although he falls short of a truly spectacular performance. He looks the part, surely, but Dutt doesn't end up going beyond the written material. His bulky appearance, though, makes the combat sequences with a muscular Hrithik come alive. Rishi Kapoor is fabulous, and clearly the pick of the actors. As Lala, Kapoor delivers yet another masterful performance, eliciting sufficient loathing as he goes about conducting business. His dialogues are memorable.
Devoid of fluff, the hyperbole toned down, and shorter, Agneepath would have been a far superior film. In its present form, it packs in enough punch to warrant a viewing. How much you enjoy it, though, will be directly proportionate to how much melodrama you can withstand. Old school Hindi film lovers, however, are in for a treat.