Agneepath looks nothing like a Karan Johar production — the westernised sophistication and oh-so-urbane “chic”ness of K-Jo’s style factory is totally absent, and instead, the movie celebrates unabashedly a loud return to the glory days of masala Bollywood flicks. The younger Johar’s conscious decision to keep alive the feel and look of his father’s original (it was the Johars who produced the original back in 1990) is evident in every frame. With larger than life storylines, over-the-top drama, can-do-no bad heroes, monstrous villains and heroines that are no better than a pretty portrait in the background — the famous “formula” of filmi fantasy is back in director Karan Malhotra’s movie. And if the cat calls and whistles of the audience in the theatre I watched the movie in is any sign of the popular national mood, then Salman and his front bench-pleasing South remakes are in for some serious competition.
But love it or hate it, there is no way you can watch the new without a tinge of nostalgia for the old. Commercial potboilers both, starring some of the biggest names of their times, the two Agneepath stories demand a head on comparison like no remake ever has.
The Story: very little has changed in the actual tale. A revenge drama played out with all guns blazing (and all horns blaring in the background score), the story of Agneepath needs no retelling. Mandava is still the paradise by the sea gone wrong, Mumbai is still the chaotic city of dreams, familywallahs are still as melodramatic and the set pieces as cliché as ever. Karan Johar’s decision to keep the soul of the story intact in its original avatar works wonders and so both movies level out in this particular department.
Ironically though, it is the older of the two versions that feels more real — the “sambar” slums when Shiksha gets kidnapped, the sea-side Mandva of Vijay’s childhood and even the crackling dialogues written by the incomparable Kader Khan adds a delicious tadka to the filmi flavor of the story. The gloomy “bargad ka ped” and the dark lair of Kancha in the latest version, however, are a little too obvious as props and not as real places. Dialogues are restricted to some fancy lines by Sanjay Dutt alone while Hrithik decides to sulk his way through most it. The screenplay and the dialogues of the original outshine the remake completely.
The characters: True to Mukul Anand’s inimitable style, the original Agneepath gave us memorable supporting performances by some veteran actors that are remembered till this day. Tinnu Anand’s abusive drunkard, Alok Nath as the masterji, Rohini Hattangidi’s powerful role as the hero’s mother and the fabulous portrayal of a young Vijay by master Manjunath (who can forget him dragging his father’s body on a push cart!) are important parts of the story and leave a mark alongside the lead actors’ brilliant performances.
The remake however, belongs solely to three male characters and all others are converted into insignificant parts. Even the lead actress, Priyanka Chopra , who tries hard to redo her Marathi mulgi act from Kaminey, is reduced to a mere footnote.
The older version scores yet again.
Rauf Lala vs Krishnan Iyer MA: The “nariyal paniwala” of the original tale was a performance by Mithun that could never ever be recreated. Any attempts to do the same would have made a mockery of Krishnana Iyer MA and the simplicity and honesty that he represented. The makers fortunately decided to keep the awesomeness of a lungi-clad, coconut cleaver-wielding, dark-skinned second hero to a side, and instead introduced the utterly evil, kohl-wearing Rauf Lala. The evil slumlord Anna Shetty of the original is replaced by this brilliant performance by Rishi Kapoor and his filth-spewing portrayal of the lord of the ghettos is applause worthy.
As far as secondary roles go, both score high in terms of performances, but I bet that it is Mithun with his swagger, white lungis and Tamil dialogues who will live longer in your memory.
Kancha Cheena: This is where the remake trumps over the original. Danny fans don’t get me wrong; his Kancha Cheena was evil enough and he looked uber cool in his tailored suits, gelled hair and dark shades. But as the makers reinvented the iconic bad guy for the remake, they were able to create something far more evil and primal.
Sanjay Dutt leaves the goody two shoes of Munnabhai far behind and dons a mask of mindless hatred and psychotic rage right from the early moments. His leering, hairless, black-clad avatar is the real show stealer in the new Agneepath. And with some of the best lines in the story he easily towers above everyone else.
Be sure to watch him in the opening scenes as he drags the noble masterji across the village and then brutally lynches him. A very few villains have left such an impact in Hindi cinema of recent times.
Vijay Deenanath Chauhan: Ah, the million-dollar question. Hrithik or Amitabh? SRK proved through his Don movies that it is impossible to redo what the Big B did, one could only reinterpret it. Hrithik tries to walk down the same path and tries to remold Vijay Deenanath Chauhan in a cast of his own making. The fans of Bachchan in the original would be sorely disappointed by this because even as Hrithik tries and tries real hard, he simply lacks the flair and verve that comes with the character. You end up blaming the screenplay and the direction for this.
Even with Hrithik’s brave efforts, both Rishi Kapoor and Sanjay Dutt have a more dominating presence than him on screen and it is only when he delivers the lines from the original that he brings some credibility to his character. Kudos to Hrithik for exploring greater shades of grey and for creating a new take on the character, but frankly speaking, we much prefer the suit-wearing Bachchan with his kohl-darkened eyes any day.
Verdict: Debutante Karan Malhotra shows immense promise and owns the movie in the opening shots. His storytelling is more brutal and his shots more graphic than what we are used to see in Bollywood and his direction sparkles while the story is in Mandva. But his train loses steam by the middle of the first half and for some unknown reason the story goes around in meaningless circles before he launches the hapless audience into a totally unbelievable climax (I know it’s Bollywood but a man getting stabbed five times and still lynching a dude of Sanju baba‘s size is plain stupid).
Keep it dark and deliciously brutal, you want to tell the director, but all you get is a strange cocktail of Chinese beauty parlors and Chikni Chamelis that do little for the movie. Like the surprising statutory warning in the Katrina item number, the movie comes with a rider of its own: Revisit Mandva to meet the new Kancha Cheena and Rauf Lala alone, Vijay still needs some more work to be done.