Debutant director Karan Malhotra revisits Mukul Anand's Agneepath like a devotee in awe of the deity. The timeline remains almost the same, so is the premise — son seeking revenge for the killing of his father and vilification of his character with Harivansh Rai Bachchan's legendary poem providing the customary moral fibre. If you think over the years the tools of revenge should have changed from just gun and grit to something more wholesome, you are mistaken. Vijay's mother (Zarina Wahab) once again gives up on him early. His sister is interestingly named Shiksha, but the girl, whose silence is worrying, is still being sold in an open air flesh market. No attempt has been made to explore that when Vijay's father Dinanath Chauhan said that to grant mercy you have to be powerful, he didn't necessarily mean just brute force.

However, Vijay is no longer upfront. He is manipulative and works for a gang lord Rauf Lala (Rishi Kapoor) who deals in cocaine and girls. Yes, he does turn up to save his sister, but what about others. Means don't matter to him as his goal is to eliminate the evil called Kancha, who orchestrated Mandwa's (the dark island off the Mumbai coast) opinion against his father so that his cocaine trade could flourish. The doublecross segment involving Lala and his son that makes for an interesting sub-plot strongly reminds one of Ram Gopal Varma's gangster flicks. It is ironical because it is a Karan Johar production, but the point is the contours of tribute are fiddled with according to convenience.

In terms of the technical treatment of the subject, Karan, along with his accomplished cinematographers, shows a distinct flair. The gloomy shades of Mandwa are poignant; Arush plays the young Vijay with electric passion and the action set pieces are suitably kinetic but too violent for a U/A certificate.

However, as Vijay grows up, Karan settles to deliver the goods that a standard formula film demands in three hours. Priyanka Chopra's performance and Katrina Kaif's presence in an item song establish the pattern. Karan doesn't care to tell us why Kancha flaunts a tattooed body in the late 70s or the origin of his villain's love for Bhagwad Gita. It seems he quotes from the holy book just because it lends some weight to the dialogues? Why is there no change in his living standards in 15 years? What does he seek? How the colour of eyes of Vijay changed over the years? Perhaps it is asking for too much from a film that is essentially paying tribute to the masala fare of the 80s and the early 90s and whose very existence is necessitated because action-laced melodrama is once again doing good business at the box office and Hrithik hasn't been part of an earthy fight fest yet.

Be it the premise or the performance, you can't take Bachchan away from Agneepath. To his credit, Hrithik doesn't commit the mistake of going the Amitabh way to play Vijay Dinanath Chauhan. If Amitabh Bachchan played Vijay as a booming sarcastic soul, somebody who had the ability to laugh in turmoil, Hrithik, perhaps aware of his limitations, tries to internalise the pain and plays it as a brooding character, waiting for his turn to settle scores with Kancha. In the process, he becomes a one-note character, but the upshot is that one note is immensely noteworthy. Wish his eyes reflected a little more retribution. Wish in the crucial dining table discussion, he had given vent to his years of pent-up feelings after taking a few bites. Also Karan has not given Vijay enough paraphernalia, both in terms of stature and men, to let him stake a claim that he has Mumbai in his pocket and to take on Kancha in his territory, single-handed.

If Agneepath still manages to keep you engaged at the superficial level, it is largely because Sanjay Dutt and Rishi Kapoor are effective. Especially Kapoor, for he has taken to dark shades with tremendous flair. The two seem to inhabit a different era unlike Hrithik. Dutt's guffaws might appear pointless beyond a point, but Kapoor's every movement is measured.

If you are game to float on the surface you might get your share of thrills and chills, else make do with Kancha's philosophy: You enter empty-handed, you shall exit empty-handed….

Agneepath

Genre: Action/drama

Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Priyanka Chopra, Sanjay Dutt, Rishi Kapoor, Zarina Wahab, Om Puri

Storyline: Vijay plots the downfall of Kancha to avenge his family's honour but by the end it predictably becomes a one-on-one.

Bottomline: A gritty, gripping old school style melodrama that delivers the customary goods.

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Hindi Cinema ReviewsOctober 18, 2011