January 26, 2012
Hrithik Roshan, Sanjay Dutt, Rishi Kapoor, Zarina Wahab, Chetan Pandit, Arish Bhiwandiwala, Priyanka Chopra
Let me be honest and tell you right at the start that I’m not in love with the earlier Agneepath directed by Mukul S. Anand, produced by Yash Johar and starring Amitabh Bachchan. I realise that Bachchan won a National Award for it, but this is part of my least favourite phase in his career when he seemed not to have come to terms with his advancing years and had become a victim of his own image and stardom.
2012’s Agneepath produced by Johar’s son Karan is melodramatic no doubt. But the melodrama works in large parts because it’s got something the old Agneepath did not have. Someone, actually. Well, make that several someones … it’s got Hrithik Roshan who, unlike some of his senior male colleagues, seems refreshingly confident of his gracefully ageing face; it’s got debutant director Karan Malhotra who joins the ranks of the very few directors who know how to handle present-day Bollywood’s most beautiful man; it’s got Ajay-Atul’s rousing background score. Add to that veteran Rishi Kapoor effortlessly shedding his nice-guy image to deliver a typically under-stated performance as a cruel gangster, and Arish Bhiwandiwala playing the little Hrithik with natural ease, and you will know why I say that though I have many objections to Agneepath, I was still greatly affected by it.
Objection #1: the length. It’s not that entire scenes should have been removed from this film, but that at too many places especially in the second half, once a point has been made, the director still stretches the scene beyond requirement … by seconds and even minutes.
This applies most to scenes involving Sanjay Dutt playing the bad guy Kancha. Dutt relies less on acting skills and more on his physicality, make-up and camera angles to create a menacing persona ... and menacing it is, no doubt! But the script which so effectively develops Hrithik’s Vijay Dinanath Chauhan for us, fails with Kancha. Don’t give a back story if you don’t want to, but don’t give us a half-baked one in passing! Every time Kancha appears on screen, the film loses energy with its studied effort to build him up as a towering personification of evil ... with some slow motion thrown in, a long shot here, an extreme close-up there.
Objection #2: Priyanka Chopra’s role. If you need any evidence of how male dominated this industry is, watch one of India’s top female stars reduced to a minor player in this film. You may argue that a small role could be significant, but let’s face it, Hrithik is unlikely to play such a tiny part in a film that’s primarily a vehicle for its female star! Besides, it’s not the length of Priyanka’s role that’s disturbing, but its insignificance. Sure, she’s good while she’s there, but she’s hardly there! Why oh why did an actress of her stature and talent accept this film?!
Objection #3: the songs. Deva Shree Ganesha is nice and picturised on a lavish scale. Amitabh Bhattacharya’s mischievous lyrics in Chikni chameli are fun ... “Chikni chameli, chupke akeli, pauwwa chadha ke ayee.” But the rest of the songs are unmemorable and unnecessary.
The story remains faithful to the original: a boy witnesses his honest father – a village teacher and reformer – being framed and then killed by the drug lord Kancha in Mandwa, not far from Mumbai. The child grows up to be Vijay Dinanath Chauhan, right hand man of Mumbai don Rauf Lala (Rishi Kapoor). Kancha wants to rule Mumbai, Vijay wants to return to Mandwa to avenge his father’s humiliation and death. He is a victim of circumstances, moved by his parents’ ideals yet convinced that they are not for this world; an essentially good man whose bitterness is destroying him. Two important changes in this remake: Rauf Lala is a new addition and thankfully, the south-Indian-stereotype-ridden character of Krishnan Iyer MA (played by Mithun Chakraborty) has been done away with.
Agneepath 2012 is stylish, well acted, moving in many places, with engrossingly old-fashioned, well executed, chilling action scenes and a hero who makes you weep with him. Some people may find the violence too gruesome, I did not. The writers and director also show rare courage in making Hrithik and Priyanka appear for the first time about 40 minutes into the film, and yet it is arresting until then.
My problem with Agneepath is that in spite of its many powerful scenes, it didn’t form a cohesive whole for me. On the plus side, Karan Malhotra is clearly good with actors. For a while now, even as recently as Don2, the incredibly talented Om Puri has appeared disinterested in his films. Here though, as the upright policeman who reminds Vijay of his dad, he’s far more involved than usual. There’s a tenderness to Vijay’s relationship with the ACP and also with his father played by the ever reliable and likeable Chetan Pandit. In fact, the lengthy opening scene with young Vijay and schoolmaster Dinanath Chauhan is lovely, a confluence of good acting, a breathtakingly atmospheric location, excellent camera work and Piyush Mishra’s clever dialogue writing. When the boy is told that Mahatma Gandhi said an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind, he shoots back, “Mahatma Gandhi Mandwa mein paida nahin hue thhe.”
Hrithik, for his part, is wise not to imitate AB senior. He is nearly a decade younger than Bachchan was in the original, and he makes Vijay Dinanath Chauhan his very own. Yes, we do get to see his fabulous body, but there’s nothing self-conscious about those scenes. And in Karan Malhotra’s able hands, he delivers a finely controlled performance which is enough to make you forgive Agneepath for the tedium intermittently caused by its length.
Rating (out of five): ***
CBFC Rating: U/A
Photograph courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agneepath_(2012_film)