(Also published in http://www.fwa.co.in/SitePages/index.aspx)
“Naam hai Vijay Dinanath Chauhan…poora naam..” - the trademark dialogue delivered like a powerful punch by an iconic hoarse voice once upon a time, could not save Agneepath from commercial failure in 1990 but did leave behind enough weight to carry a remake after 20 plus years. Simply because it had all the material that always appealed to Indian sensibilities, however predictable it may be. It told a story in the oldest format, starting from a childhood and a moving back story drawing the viewer in, moving onto a larger than life growth( a tall pair of legs stride across with confident black boots) and an action filled ending, the famous dishum dishum scenes that front row to last row ticket buyer waited to cheer. A lavishly mounted story that is every director’s dream, especially when given a cool, technical edgy feel introduced by late Mukul Anand and used well by debutant Karan Malhotra.
Once upon a time in the eighties, there was the hero, the villain, the principled school master, a mother India, a small village, a sister and a rape, a standby heroine with open arms and a big heart(read bosom).The emotional theme was like an anthem :anger and revenge that could turn you “lathpath, lathpath, lathpath”. The famous Bollywood ingredients came back in bits and pieces with Ghajani, named after the villain followed by more high grossing South Indian remakes like Wanted, Dabangg and Singham. Karan Johar and Karan Malhotra’s Agneepath cashed in on every ingredient and did two things that turned it around.
Firstly, it maximised the presence of the villain, doubling its effect by adding more evil in the form of psychic Kancha Cheena who violently hates his ugly mirror reflection and an extra character, Rauf Lala, made more impactful with Rishi Kapoor’s mean delivery. Secondly, it left no room for comparison with everyman’s hero, Amitabh Bachchan as it completely changed Vijay’s character from a man who blasts everyone with his words of fury and long tapori language filled speeches(“topi sambhalo Dinkar Rao,hawa bahut tez hai,ud jayega” written by Kader Khan) , into a man who seethed quietly, worked calculatingly, suffered silently, which Hrithik Roshan played with perfect vulnerability. Fantastic cinematography by Ravi K Chandran and Kiran Deohans make even blood and gore beautiful. Watch out for red gulaal filled screen closing into beautifully lit introductory close-up of Hrithik. All in all, an apt unapologetic tribute to the eighties filmmaking by Karan Johar known for romance and mush, recreating violence and melodrama with as much flair.
Here are some pointers from the old form of storytelling that works for the new Agneepath and some that don’t.
-Establishing hero's world as a small place with a big bad villain. The world is a small village of Mandwa where a little boy is brought up to respect hard work, honesty and fighting for the right by his highly principled headmaster father. The father, Master Dinanath Chauhan, opposes the scary, ugly, psychic giant, Kancha Cheena to prevent him from taking over the villagers’ land for his drug business and pays with his life. Little Vijay Chauhan is left helplessly watching his father humiliated and hanged brutally on a dark, rainy night(magnificent, haunting, dark image) and is forced to leave Mandwa with his pregnant mother. Mandwa is used better than the original Agneepath and remains the centre point of focus throughout the film, not letting the audience forget the hero's burning desire for revenge.
-The hero's goal. What can be a better goal to appeal to the Indian audience than the hero taking an oath to give his village back to his mother after witnessing his father's shame and brutal murder? Vijay is willing to take the path of crime even if he stands alone, rejected by his mother because he remembers only one thing his father always told him.. “shakti ka paas mein hona zaroori hai, sawaal shakti ke istemaal ka hai” and decides to gather power,using all means.“Vijay Chauhan, ek chote se gaon ke master ka beta. Mumbai ke underworld ka badshah bannah chahta hai”..Inspector Gaitunde’s lines sums it up well in one line.
-The larger than life villain. The original villain played by the ever so smooth Danny Dezongpa(which is the best thing about the original) is doubled in size literally and given a fascinating scary look, made even more interesting by the casting of an otherwise popular hero. Sanjay Dutt tries his best to look ugly which is easy when placed opposite the handsome Hrithik Roshan. Though Dutts’s giant menacing looks lose their effect every time he smiles hinting at a softness and reminds you of Nargis(tight close shot in first introductory frame) and chants terrorisingly from Bhagwat Gita, “tum kya leke aaye the,kya leke jaaoge…” The role of the antagonist is taken to a more sinister level by adding an entirely new subplot with Rishi Kapoor who with his lurid human traffic history makes you fear for the hero's little innocent sister.
-The hero himself. This change in the new Agneepath is a masterstroke. Made perfect by Hrithik's beauty like that of a not so wild but stunning stallion galloping painfully to stay ahead of the unruly, wild, killer pack of wolves. “Dekhne main seedha lekin sabse uljha hua” in Inspector Gaitunde’s words. Who mouths the famous Vijay Dinanath Chauhan dialogue with an intensity that matches the dramatic moment reaching a crescendo during a magnificently shot Ganpati visarjan scene.
-the best card left unused, the reason for ultimately failing to stir the soul: the mother. Played perfectly in the original by Rohini Hattangadi as the mother refusing to accept her son and simple lines like,"Gaon chalo,maa..",the real strength of the script in the son’s desire to make his mother accept him, is ruined by Zarina Wahab's unconvincing portrayal despite Hrithik's valiant efforts at making it work in the touching dinner scene on the steps outside her house. The ending in the original film comes out stronger with Amitabh dying in his mother’s arms. In the new version, the ending is like a piece of beautiful symphony played at a funeral that you admire but don’t mourn, unfortunately.
-the most common premise. A revenge drama, a son's burning mission to destroy his father's killer and bring back dignity to his mother, is a common theme of the eighties, which still works if well done.
-an add on item value.No, its not the chikni chameli dance but Rishi Kapoor in a qawalli. Mind you, not a single woman in the entire sequence. Proves that a good song and great energy on screen is all that one needs for good entertainment.
-last but not the least,the famous poem,the title and the concurrent theme by late Harivansh Rai Bachchan, “Ye mahan drishya hai, Chal raha manushya hai, Ashru, shwed, rakt se, Lathpath, Lathpath, Lathpath…. Agneepath, Agneepath, Agneepath..
All in all, an unabashed celebration of the stuff that Hindi cinema is made of.