AGNEEPATH

Starring Rishi Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt, Hrithik Roshan, Priyanka Chopra, Om Puri

Written & Directed by Karan Malhotra

Rating: ****


30x40 SD Poster FINAL CCLong before the damsel in the den Katrina Kaif signs her writhe petition junta ke naam, the film’s imposing villain and by extension the film, have written their destiny. In bold bloodied letters. E-mail didn’t exist in the 1990s.

Indeed Sanjay Dutt as Kancha lording over a no-man’s-land called Mandwa where the only law that exists is lawlessness, is so formidable in his vile antics, you fear for the hero, a decent bloke with eyes that tell a million untold stories.

Hrithik Roshan opts for a perfectly-tuned low-pitched performance to offset Dutt’s larger-than-life diabolism. For sure the combination of the flamboyant and the understated works. Although by the time the two get to each other’s throat almost three hours have flown by, you never feel the weight of the footage. An unbearable lightness of being vengeful pervades the storytelling.

This then, ladies and gentleman, is Agneepath Retold or Agneepath Deconstructed. Either way, the revenge formula never seemed more rousing in its invocation of Good and Evil in their most elementary avatars.

Debutant writer-director Karan Malhotra has chosen to restructure one of the most complex but unsuccessful Amitabh Bachchan starrer of the 1990s.

There are no punctuation marks in the narrative. The plot leaps at you through its sanguinary design, building brick by brick an edifice of low –life and high-drama. The bleak intimidating landscape, a bizarre bewildering blend of the Kafkaesque and the Mukul Anand-esque, captures the feeling of dread and devastation more effectively than any recent massy film.

This new-rage Agneepath retains the core of Mukul Anand’s 1990 failed-drama. And yes, it retains Harivnansh Rai’s ‘Angeepath’ poem, though, alas, we don’t get to hear Amitabh Bachchan recite the eloquent lines this time.

Malhotra’s script alters many of the original’s dramatic moments, adds new characters (most notable among them, Rishi Kapoor’s Rauf Lala), and finally fine-tunes and assimilates the plot’s subliminal statement on crime and retribution to a pitch where we often hear the screaming protests of social inequality through the protagonist’s pain-lashed expressions of angst disgust and rebellion rather than his words.

Indeed Hrithik Roshan opts for a subdued interpretation of his vengeful character where he could’ve easily been larger-than-life. Roshan lets Sanjay Dutt take charge of the blizzard of the bravura. Dutt is delightfully in-form here.

During the Chikni chameli item song when he quizzes the newly-arrived Mandwa-resident Vijay on why he’s where he is, Dutt’s eyes go from the molten to the melting…His best in years.

But the finest performance comes from Rishi Kapoor. Playing a loathsome flesh trader and drug dealer who takes Vijay under his wings , Kapoor delivers a bludgeoning homage to skin-crawling villainy.

A glorious departure from his lover-boy image. The prolonged sequence where Roshan takes on Rishi Kapoor is the single-most riveting episode of filmed violence in Indian cinema since Gabbar Singh’s mayhem over the Thakur’s family in Sholay.

Indeed Agneepath works so wonderfully within its high-voltage masala maad-dhaad genre because of the actors who instinctively grasp the street-level gut-wrenching grammar of debutant Karan Malhotra’s storytelling.

Barring Priyanka Chopra who seems strangely cosmetic in a land of looming credibility, every character shines through the crime-drama maze in a swirling haze of high-pitched drama.

The action sequences by Abbas Ali Mogul are staged to convey the same rawness as Dabangg, but without the sense of comicbook fantasy that made the action in Dabangg bearable , even comical.

In Agneepath every blow that Hrithik Roshan so manfully receives on his chin makes you flinch. You wait for him to give back as good as he gets.

The battering is relentless. This is not a film for the faint-hearted. Its basic structure and the leitmotif of the ‘tree of death’ (where Vijay Chauhan’s father was hanged and where his wrongdoer will finally, meet his nemesis) draw audiences into a vortex of viciousness and sadism.

This is a dark brooding world where pre-teen girls are raped sold and beaten up, where boys learn to use the gun before they learn to masturbate.

This is a world where the laws of retribution and redemption are re-written according to who rules the underworld. This is Agneepath where the poet gets hanged and the pervert gets promoted.

First-time director Karan Malhotra revels in the language of the commercial Hindi cinema. The characters in Vijay’s chawl are all good-hearted. Every character in the villain Kancha’s kingdom is a creep or a coward…take your pick.

The battle lines are tightly and compellably drawn. The pace is breakneck.

And the melodrama flows in a tense torrent signifying the return of the vendetta formula in all its Eastman-colour glory.

The film’s mob scenes of violence and religion often merge on the violent streets of Mumbai and in the lawless backwaters of the imaginary island of diabolism Mandwa.

The narrative features a Gokul Asthami matki-breaking sequence at the start and a Ganesh visarjan sequence towards the end, both shot spectacularly on the streets of Mumbai.

The background music is a suitable banshee of memories and pain.

Since Hrithik Roshan has chosen the language of understatement to portray the wronged wounded social outcast Vijay Dinanath Chauhan, it is up to the eloquence-level of the soundtrack to supplement the hero’s stunning silences.

Every component of Malhotra’s jagged drama falls into place, with a resounding thump. Agneepath is brilliant in its brutality.

It’s a riveting and hectic homage to the spirit of the cinema in the 1970s when revenge reigned supreme. And content was King.

This new Agneepath takes us back to the era when there was no computer or cellphones. And communication with the audience was immediate and electrifying.

Relive that tingling sensation of watching the hero gets his groove back. In gory detail.

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