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Monday, January 30, 2012

2012 Hindi Movie Agneepath review: The angry young man returns

Agneepath was always about sons and fathers.
Amitabh Bachchan, under the guidance of Mukul Anand, strode determinedly to the incantation of his real father Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s poem, to extract revenge for his reel dad. This time too it’s about fathers and sons. But besides the screen Vijay Dinanath Chauhan avenging his dad, there’s an added dimension about Karan Johar and his father Yash Johar.
The 1990 Agneepath was critically well received but it bombed at the box-office, leaving Yash Johar a broken man. Karan Johar probably took shapath at some point in his life that he will avenge the flop with a success. His Agneepath, therefore, is a commercially viable take on a film that has acquired cult status over the years.
Here regular scenes are drenched in vibrant colours, critical moments are operatic, intrigue is Shakespearean, emotions are debilitating, sets lavish and violence spine-tingling. It has the length and sweep of an epic and intends to make the public pay for their past sins. Well, one of these days Karan Johar will be able to talk to his daddy’s photograph and say, “Dad, I did it.”
I don’t much care about remakes, but this Agneepath is more than a remake or a homage to the original. It’s about a son righting a wrong and this emotion makes us connect with the film immediately.
Though Bachchan’s Agneepath worked for me, I hold no brief for him or the film. He talked a lot and always in one-liners, signing off every single time with “hain”, often sitting askew. He was affected and what he thought was Brandoesque style of acting actually made his Vijay look and sound like a caricature.
Producer Karan Johar and director Karan Malhotra’s Agneepath has the same storyline, with some key characters reappearing carrying same old traits and motivations, and a few new and interesting additions.
We begin in Mandwa, an island in the Arabian Sea, off the coast of Maharashtra, in 1977. Here too Masterji Dinanath Chauhan (Chetan Pandit) is an adarshwadi, a Gandhian, who wants to set up a salt factory to improve the lot of the villagers.
He has a pregnant wife Suhasini (Zareena Wahab) and young son Vijay (played by young Arish Bhiwandiwala and later Hrithik Roshan) who, we learn in the first scene itself, doesn’t take well to any sort of cheating and is given to settling arguments by phodoing opponent’s head. But Dinanath stops him, tells him how an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind, and takes him home reciting the fervent and affecting poem, Agneepath, agneepath, agneepath. Little Vijay skips along, holding dad’s hand, reciting, but we know from past experience that a Gandhian he is not to be.
The local zamindar doesn’t like Masterji’s growing popularity and is waiting for his son Kancha to come and restore order. Kancha (Sanjay Dutt) arrives, cigar in one hand, Gita in the other. A bald, ominous man with Shiv and dragon tattoos, he has a ring standing on one ear, twisted toe nails and a scar splitting his head into two. He looks like Shrek’s evil brother.
As he is walks to his bungalow, Kancha sees his reflection in a mirror and unbearable voices echo in his head, screaming that he is badsoorat. Kancha drops on his knees and smashes the mirror. It’s a powerful scene, with the camera crawling around and staring up at Kancha. But then Sanjay Dutt opens his mouth and breaks the spell.
Usually, dialogue writer Piyush Mishra is very good so I am not sure whether this was his doing or the director’s. But whoever decided to make Dutt wail “zindagi mein sheesha nahin chahiye” needs to pause and ponder the power of silence.
Kancha harbours evil plan for Mandwa for which he wants the villagers to give their land on lease to him for 100 years. Dinanath tries to stop them and this irks Kancha. He frames Masterji in a rape and murder case and sets his house on fire. And then, in a high-voltage scene made apocalyptic with the play of dark rain and lightning, drags Dinanath and hangs him on a tree.
This establishes the agneepath Vijay must walk on to seek retribution and closure. Which he does, 15 years later, after some interesting deviations from the original.
In fact, the most clever thing that the two Karans have done here is not to invoke the original too much. The dramatic scenes which we all remember — the burning petrol pump, Amitabh’s voice change, dialogue like “apun ka death ke saath appontment hai, appontment”, “pura naam, Vijay Dinanath Chauhan, hain” — are mostly kept out. And a few that are used, have a different setting and are pleasantly surprising.
In the original, Vijay was protected by one man, Krishna Iyer MA, here he has an army of hijras. There is also some nice use of motifs for dramatic effect, some interesting appendages to scenes and people, and yet some characters and relations are not developed properly, perhaps on the assumption that there’s continuity from the original work. For example, Inspector Gaitonde’s (played nicely by Om Puri) instinct to protect Vijay is never really explained.
Agneepath is long and extravagant and though its two ends — beginning and climax — are taut and dramatic, as if moving to the beats of the dhol on Ganesh Chaturthi, the middle droops. There’s twisted intrigue, deceit and murders that remind you of Maqbool, developing and dying relations and some song and dance. It’s all necessary for the plot, but is sometimes not engaging enough.
Karan Johar and Karan Malhotra’s Agneepath is very violent and bloody, but it’s not set in the gritty, real world of the original. Here every set is embellished and made aesthetic with beauteous props and colours, and every scene, including the gory fight scenes, are lyrically choreographed. And since it is a Karan Johar production, it is incredibly sappy. There’s Ma, maa ke haath ka khana, chhoti behen, and impossible relationships all of which take a huge emotional toll. I walked out of the hall feeling pretty exhausted.
Also, their Vijay is more lonely and sad than angry. He also talks less. Hrithik Roshan does most of the acting with his eyes and that is very powerful. Hrithik is beautiful and lately he had been going the androgynous way. But here he’s all man. He doesn’t dance, he lunges, shoots, mostly has a bloody face and weeps and howls.
Though most of the supporting cast is good, especially Rishi Kapoor who plays Rauf Lala of Dongri, Sanjay Dutt and Priyanka Chopra are disappointing. Sanjay’s look is menacing, he is not. His Kancha is like a villain out of a book of fairytales for eight-year-olds — grotesque, sinister and distant.
PS: Katrina Kaif arrives, jiggling her stuff to Chikni Chameli, at the party Kancha throws to welcome Vijay to Mandwa. Though this song is exciting to watch on music channels, here it is dwarfed by serious and grand things that precede and follow.


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