2 & 1/2 stars out of 5 (above average)
Director : Nikhil Advani
Hindi (English subtitles available) , 2012
It’s tough to recommend a movie whose merits are adulterated by festering melodrama....
My first exposure to Agneepath Redux was a Youtube video of "Chikni Chameli". Opening frames showed a hyper-earnest Katrina Kaif hip-thrusting her way to raunchy glory. I have heartily ogled her awesome dances in other songs,but this one did not fire up my cockles.After a brief detour through the delicious ’Sheila ki Jawaani’,I quickly switched to the lusty riot and rhythmic blast of "Babuji Zara Dheere Chalo"...Coitus substitutus?
As for the original Agneepath which was released in 1990- a year which closed arguably Hindi cinema’s worst decade- my only memories of it are of Amitabh Bacchan ’s character dragging his injured body and limping in a fading scene..and a grungy image of Mithun Chakravorty. Eager to see the 21st century rendition of this movie, I settled into my multiplex seat to catch a Hindi movie after a long time...
Pic opens in Mandwa ,Maharashtra wherein a boy- Vijay (enacted by Arish Bhiwandiwala)- is in the joyous throes of Krishnashtami festivities. Later when he is incensed by the dishonesty of his friends,his father Deenanath Chauhan who is a school-teacher educates his son in the ideals of righteous living and non-violence. Soon,the villain -Kaancha - trundles into town. It’s very likely that Kancha’s mien has been modelled to come across as a hefty version of Lord Voldemort. Sanjay Dutt is formidable in bringing this character to amoral life. Kaancha’s corpulent frame is clad in a plain kurta-pyjama of thin black cloth. His pale porcine skin is stretched over a thick,almost humped neck ,and spreads over a bald head, onto a face which exudes scheming malevolence. He persuades the villagers to to lease out their lands so that he can build salt factories on them and share the profits. His real intention is to mass-manufacture cocaine . The villagers are united in their retarded cheerfulness and agree to the proposal. When Deenanath tries to instill some sense into them ,Kaancha conspires to get rid of him - this event is shown in a horrific,harrowing sequence set on a stormy night.
Vijay and his pregnant mother manage to escape to Mumbai . In this new location, another antagonist is introduced - Ravoof Lala (enacted by Rishi Kapoor) an underworld chief who sells illicit drugs and zestily auctions off young girls to perverted bidders. Vijay notes Lala’s dislike towards Kaancha and soon manages to get himself inducted into Lala’s gang. The boy’s mother, appalled at this turn of events, leaves her son. Vijay grows up ( Hrithik Roshan plays the adult Vijay) while juggling a dual career - gangster on the one hand and philanthropist-darling for the masses on the other. Kaali (Priyanka Chopra) enters the fray to fulfill the "love interest" angle. The hero bides his time, plotting revenge and a return to Mandwa which has now become an ash-laden Lanka...
Producer Karan Johar prefaces proceedings with a printed declaration which states that the original Agneepath was close to his father (and influential producer) Yash Johar’s heart.He also praises Uncle Amit’s brilliance in that film and states that this restructured version is a homage to those elements of the past. That is an understandable sentiment but what becomes increasingly unacceptable is this film’s inadequacy in maintaining the niceties and intricacies of high-quality storytelling. Scenes of manufactured sentiment become more conspicuous.Natural depth of emotion is rarely evident here.Melodrama is like garam -masala! - it should be used in moderation. Director Karan Malhotra allows the use of it in heaps -ruinous results follow. The scenes of Vijay’s reunion with his sister, the montage wherein the long suffering mother looks on with an ironic smile as her tormentor receives his just desserts ,the far-away image of the altruistic father coming back to brief symbolic life in the finale - all these represent cringe-worthy cliches which modern Hindi cinema is trying to recover from, but Agneepath tries to drown in them.
To be fair, the movie does have its positives - the first half holds out the promise of a story whose merits outweigh its trash. The scene in which Vijay quietly laments his mother’s continued rejection of her son ,attests to the movie’s sincere dramatic credentials when the going is good. The climactic fight (in which the hero proves himself resistant to haemorrhagic shock!) is choreographed with orgiastic shades of brutal physical assault and eventual resurrection. The face-off between the hero and villain in the finale is given an exciting build-up and powerful follow-through, notwithstanding the embarrassing finish to it. Even the impotent behaviour of Mandwa’s masses is understandable- our country’s public does the same by unwittingly helping barbarians to power.
Arish Bhiwandiwala who plays Vijay in boyhood, does very well in conveying a solid sense of emotional strength to his role. Hrithik ,turning out as usual in his toned frame,rippling biceps and "Grecian God" of a face, looks emotes suffers and bleeds in a a suitably aggrieved and pained manner.It can’t be denied that he makes an earnest attempt to deliver the goods,but his melancholia lacks that searing intensity. Priyanka Chopra looks ravishing ,with her exquisite visage and svelte figure clad in a sari -she’s called upon to do a fair bit of acting,from wrenching emotion to an "in extremis" state, but her efforts merit neither criticism nor high praise. Although Rishi Kapoo r can no doubt essay complex roles, his character here is a two-dimensional villain with limited charms.
The film’s best performance comes from the role of Kancha -the alpha-villain embodied consummately by Sanjay Dutt . Bulky,bald with cold eyes and a perpetual smirk,Kancha spews satanic verses and lords over his dark fiefdom.He diligently cultivates and peddles cocaine,while dutifully committing murder,rape and personally hanging men who oppose him. Clad in a black tunic,sitting on a black throne with black curtains billowing,in a black fortress set against black skies on a black island, complete with a favourite black tree for hanging infidels, Kancha’s character does not bother with the gray shades of moral complexity . This performance is worthy of entry into the all-time list of memorable villains in Hindi cinema.
Cinematographer Kiran Deohans is the real hero of the movie. We are given the luxury of watching high-resolution aesthetic images throughout. The screen is often awash in rich colours and stark contrasts which are best enjoyed in a theatre’s wide-screen (a big pity as the story-telling style fails on a number of occasions to live up to the visuals) The colour red - blood, blood-thirsty revenge ,blood-bubbling passion- is generously deployed in key scenes. Special effects are competently handled- a rare occurrence in Hindi movies. The finale,where the hero is tortured and taunted by the gloating villain, is soaked in shades of gray and black.
The background music is foolishly employed for the most part. It is loud and artless. Its strident pitch acquires some validity only in the climax. The percussion-heavy songs are unremarkable.Even Chikni Chameli, with all its aggressive promotion on TV, hyperdynamic rhythm and ebulliently elaborate choreography, does not achieve the status of an outstanding item song.
Agneepath is a not a bad movie. But it tilts dangerously close to being so, and suffers from direction that belongs to bygone decades. The attempt to update and revise the original, benefits amply from technical dazzle, but is failed by a lack of superior sensibility. The stereotypes are not given a different spin (unlike 'Dev D'), they are merely served up again.The movie is salvaged to a significant extent by the visuals, but its story-telling stumbles so often that redemption remains out of reach.
PS: I was wrong. "Chikni Chameli" is devastatingly great.
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