The original Agneepath (1990) is iconic for various reasons. Having revisited it again, this writer was blown away by the filmís simple sophistication. The classiness begins with the story and performances, percolating down to every detail.
Agneepath 2012 has the colour-corrected frames, a visually striking landscape, and Chikni Chameli, but it doesnít come close to beating the minimalist cool of the original.
Agneepath begins with the goose-bump inducing poem (by Harivansh Rai Bachchan) where a father is teaching the son to choose Agneepath ó the path of principle and truth even if itís full of obstacles.
From there on, the film swerves downhill. Master Deenanath is a school teacher who doubles up as a reformer. Widely revered in the Mandwa village, he is falsely implicated in a criminal case (handled with much more dignity in the original) and murdered.
Little Vijay, who witnesses this brutality, grows up with a burning ambition to reclaim his village and take revenge. The film plays around with the characters, doing away with MA Krishna Iyer (Mithun Chakraborty in a superbly comical role), and adding in ruthless criminal Rauf Lala (Rishi Kapoor).
In a film where the central protagonist is a law-breaker and on a revenge trip, the filmmaker needs to create viewer sympathy for their cause. Both Amitabhís and Hrithikís Vijay grow up to be criminals. But you soften for Amitabhís Vijay for his discomfit with drugs, his childlike desperation for societal recognition (the scene in an uppity restaurant is priceless), and his philanthropy for the poor.
On the other hand, Hrithikís Vijay is the right-hand man for Rauf Lalaó a boorish criminal who auctions off underage girls while running a drug empire. This is our hero? Even if heís with Lala while keeping revenge in mind, we cannot warm up to a person involved in pimping children! There. The precious link between central character and viewer is snapped. And so itís that much harder to respect and cheer what is portrayed as a righteous revenge.
In fact, the film perplexingly brings in the abuse of underage girls as a recurring plot point tool. (The original was far more sanitized in this respect where even the heroís sister is kidnapped but not attacked.)
And what to say of the violence? The original was bloody enough, and this one is several-folds that. So you have gruesome scenes of people being hung, slashed, smashed. The fight scenes are well-executed and will have action-lovers cheer.
The finale that begins with the Ganesh Visarjan song (a very dull one) is a tangled mess. And when you have Hrithik speaking the famous Vijay Deenanath Chauhan dialogue while in a violent scuffle, it kills the film as well.
The film has its share of strong positives. In the midst of the grimy story, relationships are tender, loving, and layered. Time stands still when Vijay reunites with his kid sister in a magical scene. This portion is the filmís strongest achievement; you cannot help being taken in by the overwhelming emotion. The dialogue is powerful and the film remains visually striking throughout.
And then thereís Hrithik Roshan. How does he do it every time? Roshan will blow your socks off with his rendering of Vijay where he masterfully folds in vulnerability with strength.
Sanjay Dutt as Kancha Cheena plays around with the characterization. The role has been rewritten from a suave player to a comic-book villain who gives us the evil laugh, smiles menacingly, and smashes mirrors as children call his face frightening. Rishi Kapoor is the scene-stealer here with his superbly effortless, nuanced act.
Priyanka Chopra shines in the role of a sprightly and independent girl. Her styling is a bit off, but the performance sees it through. Kanika Tiwari as Vijayís sister is superb.
Debut director Karan Malhotra shows great promise in making the film visually arresting and maintaining the consistency of performances. But remaking a cult film means you have big shoes to fill. If youíre a loyalist of the Late Mukul Anandís Agneepath, youíre likely to have reservations with this one. But if you leave the comparisons aside and are willing to forgive the faults, Agneepath is worth a watch essentially to savor Hrithikís performance.
Rating: Three stars