Friday, January 27, 2012


Those Were The Days

Somewhere in the promotional blitz, Agneepath (1990) has taken on the status of a cult classic.  Whatever emotional reasons Karan Johar may have had to remake this Mukul Anand film, produced by his father Yash Johar, it wasn’t at all great, or even an original film.  Mukul Anand, one of the early birds in the breed of style-over-substance directors, had taken a very routine Bollywood revenge drama and given it some Hollywood-ian touches.

Twenty-two years down the line, the plot and over-the-top narrative style still belongs to the eighties, and the gangland story has become dog-eared from its many tellings.   Karan Malhotra’s “reimagining” of the old film, is a technically sound, but otherwise uneasy mix between old and new Bollywood.  Old where family ties and loyalty matters; new where the hero has to take his shirt off and an item girl has to be recruited to attract first day audiences.  That audiences are actually missing the heart and core of old Bollywood is proved by the reportedly huge opening of the new Agneepath (and also films like Dabangg and Singham of the same genre). Karan Johar’s budget can garnish it will all the elements needed today—extravagant set pieces, lavish song picturisations and a Voldemort –style villain in Sanjay Dutt.

Like the original, the story begins on the island of Mandwa, where a young Vijay Chauhan (Arush Bhiwandiwala) watches the evil Kancha (Dutt) frame and lynch his father (Chetan Pandit).  With his mother (Zarina Wahab) he moves to Mumbai with revenge in his heart.  When he allies himself with the flesh trader and drug dealer Rauf Lala (Rishi Kapoor), his mother disowns Vijay and raises her daughter Shiksha (Kanika Tiwari) alone.

Vijay starts his climb up the ladder by killing a cop and then 15 years later (played Hrithik Roshan) is still fuelled by revenge. He plots to get Lala out of the way so that he can meet Kancha on equal terms. In the interim, there is also a cursory romance with the chirpy Kalli (Priyanka Chopra, simpering away).

You are not supposed to count the illogicality or plot holes, like why the cops are always twiddling their thumbs, or why Kancha stays put in Mandwa to run it like a concentration camp, or why cop  Gaitonde (Om Puri) has such a soft corner for Vijay?  Because Vijay is a philanthropist too?  Why does Vijay plant bombs around Kancha’s lair then go for a fist fight with the massive man? It all builds up to the inevitable clash in the climax,  which takes too long to arrive, what with all the song-and-dance (too much!) Chikni Chameli (Katrina Kaif) was just not needed, but the grim film could have done with just a smidgeon of humour.

Nobody could do rage as well as Amitabh Bachchan (of all his great performances, he inexplicably got a National Award for this one!), but Hrithik Roshan does seething pain better.  He keeps Agneepath afloat along with Rishi Kapoor.  The actor who has played romantic heroes all his life, plays a rotten criminal with kohl-eyed menace, more scary than the cartoonish Kancha, who is bulky, tattooed and spouting faux philosophy.  Rishi Kapoor walks away with every scene he is in, but to be honest, each blow he takes is hard to bear, because you can’t believe he can be lecherous and foul. Though you applaud the performance, you secretly hope he won’t be bad again.

The thing they didn’t get right then, and still don’t:  A Maharashtrian would be Chavan not Chauhan and no person of Marathi origins would name a daughter Shiksha – it translates as punishment.


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