Agneepath: Rishi Kapoor Steals Show in Violent Parody of a Classic

Dharma Productions’ “Agneepath”

Produced by: Hiroo Yash Johar Karan Johar

Directed by: Karan Malhotra

Music: Ajay-Atul

Starring: Rishi Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt, Hrithik Roshan, Priyanka Chopra, Chetan Pandit, Deven Bhojani, Zarina Wahab, Om Purti, Rajesh Tandon, Harish Bhiwandiwala others

Let’s face it: “Agneepath” (1990) was inspired in the basic sense by “Deewaar” (1975). But though the film – far ahead of its times and too dark and a bit boring – flopped in its initial run, it took the story to a new dimension. The late Yash Johar was hurt by the film’s failure in more than just the financial sense. Twenty-two years later, his son Karan sets out to celebrate and tribute this film which, since then, has got its due and is considered a classic.

He is joined by Karan Malhotra, debutant co-writer-director and son of late producer Ravi Malhotra, Rishi Kapoor’s secretary, who had produced four Rishi delights, the super-hit “Khel Khel Mein,” the successful “Jhoota Kahin Ka” and “Hum Dono” (1995) and the unfortunate “Raahi Badal Gaye.” 

Malhotra makes ‘contemporary’ (sic) changes to the original gritty plot (why, when the film begins in 1977 and ends in 1992?), does away with Mithun Chakraborty and Madhavi and develops Goga Kapoor’s minor character of Dinkar Rao into ganglord Rauf Lala for Rishi Kapoor. 

More changes have been made, especially in the crucial climax and the vital death scene. Sadly, these were the two aces of the original story and today’s writers, Ila Dutta and Karan himself, simply cannot match Santosh Saroj’s writing. Nor can Piyush Mishra of the niche film genre hope to match or outclass the learned Kader Khan’s incisive genius.

The story is basic: an honest schoolmaster, Master Dinanath Chauhan (Chetan Pandit) who inculcates values in his son Vijay (Harish Bhiwandiwala) is framed and lynched by villain Kancha Cheena (Sanjay Dutt) with the approval of villagers in Mandwa, a coastal Maharashtra town where drug smuggling goes on. Too late, the villagers realize that the idealistic teacher was giving them sound advice on not giving up their lands on lease to Kancha because of his false promises of prosperity.

Despite the disapproval of his mother (Zarina Wahab), Vijay is hell-bent on revenge and grows up to be a young man (Hrithik Roshan) who uses Rauf Lala (Rishi Kapoor), a Mumbai ganglord (they have relocated there) to get even with Kancha. His soulmate is Kaali (Priyanka Chopra), a childhood friend from the same “basti.” His mother (pregnant when Dinantha was murdered) and sister Shiksha stay away from him, and Shiksha (born after their arrival in Mumbai) does not even know that Vijay, who brings her a birthday cake each year, is her brother.

Mukul S.Anand’s “Agneepath” was a moving tale of revenge that respected values. There was a sequence where the mother forgives her dying son Vijay, who has cleaned up the village by treading through the path of fire – literally as well as figuratively. This time round, the title is not justified at all, except as a general metaphor for the hero’s focused but delayed revenge. The character of Vijay is at odds for such a cold-blooded strategist, for he is perennially brooding, even if he gets into sudden dance modes at community festivals!

By contrast, the tonsured hair and eyebrows are supposed to lend a far more menacing tone to this Kancha vis-à-vis Danny Denzongpa’s stunning turn in the earlier movie, but Dutt, speaking as always in the same fashion whether doing a “Munna Bhai” film, a “Dus,” a “Zinda” or an “All The Best” fails to deliver. If Danny was chilling, Dutt emerges a caricature – ridiculous and unintentionally funny. His death sequence is the most ludicrous, as those who will watch the film will realize.

The character of Kaali another non-entity in the plot: Priyanka is sincere but just adequate, as she was not at all needed for this story. Her dance (“Gun gun guna”) matches, and the show is stolen completely by the admirable Katrina Kaif as she dances to classic Marathi-style abandon in “Chikni chameli.”

A word about the significance of this song: it is catchy, with decent words, awesome vocals (Shreya Ghoshal) and fabulous choreography. But strangely enough, it is after this song that the film begins to slide dramatically. Clearly Karan Malhotra wants to be mainstream and retro, but the elements in this film have much more of Ram Gopal Varma and even a bit of Vishal Bhardwaj, rather than the far more accomplished filmmaker that Mukul S. Anand was. Thankfully, expletives are eschewed.

The gratuitous violence seems justified for a while in the first half even if excessive, but finally it just becomes unpleasant. A U/A certificate is a laugh on the censors who curtail far less objectionable stuff. How can any sane person explain an “Adults only” tag to “Desi Boyz,” where a kid will not even understand what a male “escort” means, and a U/A tag for a film where a man slices the neck of a man in public, including kids, and the camera focuses on the face of men who are hanging to death thrice in the film?

The background music is deafening, the rest of the songs ordinary and the DI overdone. The camerawork is just about average. Malhotra holds promise with far better scripts but as of now cannot be termed a great directorial discovery.

Rishi Kapoor as Rauf Lala effortlessly decimates the competition in acting – in his fourth “bad” role after “Khoj,” “Kuch To Hai” and “Kal Kissne Dekha,” he is simply astounding. If this film works, we hope that it will be what “Mohabbatein” was to Amitabh Bachchan’s career.

Hrithik is, as usual, sincere and painstaking but the brooding does not impress. Dutt, as said, is ludicrous. From the supporting cast, only Zarina Wahab packs a punch, the rest are adequate.

When classics are remade, we wish the soul is kept intact even if the body changes. This time, the body changes for the worse, while the soul seems to have left the body. This Vijay fights for revenge alone, not for values. Besides — remakes or not — a film should be a standalone worth-watch for people who may not have taken a dekko at the original: this one only ends up as a mediocre, misguided parody. A fab opening due to hype, the Dharma branding, Hrithik and the Agneepath status may be obvious but I do not see this film sustaining, or doing well overseas. After all, it is a LOVE story – a L-oud O-rgy of V-iolence E-xcessive!

Rating: **

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