(Published in The Sunday Guardian, on 29 January, 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/roshan-revels-in-remake)
Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Sanjay Dutt, Rishi Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Zarina Wahab, Kanika Tiwari
Director: Karan Malhotra
Rating: 4 stars
Vijay, the Angry Young Man, is back. And this time, he’s no aging superstar. A perfectly-toned Hrithik Roshan exudes both power and vulnerability, redefining the Vijay Deenanath Chauhan Amitabh Bachchan played in 1990.
In an era of shoddy remakes, Agneepath adapts itself to a contemporary audience, and is bold enough to speak of CSA and underage prostitution. Where the original had Masterji lynched for visiting a brothel, the implication is darker here. Yet, it’s aware of its temporal setting – 1977 to 1992 – subtly portrayed through movie posters in the background, costumes, and telephones. No nods to international events, no allusion to politics.
This is a film meant for the theatre – the surging crowds, pulsating music, elaborate dance routines, and artfully choreographed fights make for a spectacle. There may be a song or three too many, but debutant director Karan Malhotra does well to intersperse these with combat sequences.
The fleshing out of minor characters gives the film a strong foundation, and the story is cleaner for the lack of sub-plots. Nope, no Krishnan Iyer – presumably, Bollywood’s figured out educated Tam Brahms don’t typically sell coconuts in Bombay. Rishi Kapoor excels as Rauf Lala, a creepy underworld don who mentors Vijay.
The character of young Vijay (Arish Bhiwandiwala) is perfectly in keeping with the avatar donned by Hrithik Roshan. They don’t have the same light eyes, but they share fiery expressions. And it comes through beautifully in a photograph with his childhood friend and to-be-partner Kaali (later played by Priyanka Chopra) – he stares into the camera as she beams at it.
Sanjay Dutt is a sinister Kancha: his hairless face with its nasty smile is chilling. The horror and bewilderment of the mute, autistic Azhar Lala (Deven Bhoja) at the ugly events he witnesses make for understated social commentary. Chetan Pandit stands out in his brief appearance as Masterji, determined, kind and inspiring.
Hrithik’s gaze is so intense he doesn’t look ridiculous even when he’s commanding an army of hijras. Unlike Bachchan, he delivers his dramatic dialogues with restraint that doesn’t lend itself to meme. He only barks out his name on one potent, memorable occasion. The only real tribute to Bachchan seems to be a flutter of sepia leaves that’s reminiscent of Toofan.
What didn’t work, then? The final fight stretches too long to be plausible. The Ma sentiment is a misfit in the fresh template. The glamour quotient is contrived – the chawl Vijay lives in seems to run a midriff-exposing contest, and Katrina Kaif makes a poor Chikni Chameli. And yaar, don’t ask us to believe Zarina Wahab’s pregnant. Really.
Verdict: Version 2 beats the original.