One was surprised when the decision to remake Agneepath was announced. Especially, since though the 1990 version is (now) regarded as some sort of cult film (I wonder why), it is actually little more than a standard revenge story of the hero after his father is killed with several shades of Deewaar and Scarface thrown in already giving it a strong sense of deja vu. And of course there was the whole shoo shaa of Mr Bachchan's 'different' voice (did not work) and his getting the National Award for Best Actor. With due respect to all, Agneepath (to me) has always been a highly overrated film as has been Big B's performance. Sivakumar can rightly consider himself robbed when the National Awards for the films of 1990 were announced and his absolutely brilliant work in Marupakkam lost out to Agneepath.
Fortunately, I recollect the older film in small bits and parts so one is able to put comparisons aside and view this version somewhat as a stand-alone film but some comparisons are inevitable. OK, so on one level, no doubt the film is well mounted, has a certain technical finesse and Hrithik and Rishi Kapoor have their moments as actors. But, ultimately the hackneyed story and the loud, obvious-in-your-face treatment aimed at wringing dry every emotion courtesy a deafeningly loud sound design and background score remind you of the worst of Indian mainstream films of the 1980s and 90s with every stereotype thrown in. Some sequences just leave you gobsmacked like the auction of the girls out in public open spaces especially the one with Vijay's sister - in Mumbai? In broad daylight? Really? And Mandwa, a concentration camp like location??? And we're to believe all this and go along with it?!
The screenplay is weak and full of logical loopholes. Some changes have been made from the original but not really for the better. A major casualty is Vijay's character's fleshing out. No harm in humanising him and showing him to be vulnerable but all the film does is make Hrithik weep most of the time at the cost of making him more heroic - a far cry from the spunk shown in him as a boy. Sanjay Dutt's bad guy, Kancha, is another sore point. Rather than terrifying you like a good villain must, he is repulsive, no doubt, but highly clownish as well. Of the others, only Rishi Kapoor's Rauf Lala has some flesh and blood to him. The track with Vijay and his mother and their moral conflict is weak and lacks intensity. Also, why is the film set in 1977 and then 1992 onwards as it has no real bearing or social context nor have the makers succeeded in connecting its issues with the contemporary. In fact, the characters of the corrupt politician and sideys to the Dons are straight out of the 80s.
The performances too are mixed. Hrithik Roshan has his fine moments and shows he is among the best actor-stars we have. But ultimately his character is defeated by the script and there's not much Hrithik can do to rise above that. Still, few actors capture vulnerability like him even if as mentioned, he mainly weeps and weeps. It is really Rishi Kapoor who scores above the others with a seasoned performance as he bites into the character of Rauf Lala with relish. Priyanka Chopra is wasted but maybe it is for the best as her forced liveliness and Kaminey like deja vu grates. Sanjay Dutt hams it up with tattoo designs that surely don't belong to Indian characters in the 1970s, while Om Puri can't do much as his character graph is left frustratingly hanging. Zarina Wahab is so-so but fails to bring Rohini Hattangadi's strength and dignity in the original. Special mention has to be made of Chetan Pandit as Master Dinanath Chauhan and Arish Bhiwandiwala as the young Vijay. Their rapport together works well.
The technicalities deserve a mention for the cinematography and production design. The songs are not particularly memorable and neither are their picturisations. The item number is totally non-happening as a graceless Katrina Kaif shakes it all (desperately?) in the name of dancing. The background score is loud as hell hammering in the emotions so much that you are forced to cover your ears most of the time (and yet hear the soundtrack clearly!) while the editing is again full of in-your-face obvious flourishes. The length too tells as the second half just goes on and on and... on. The action sequences are executed well enough even if the violence is over the top at times.
All in all, more than the hero, Agneepath is a tough path of fire that the viewer has to cross to get through the film. The film is disappointing although with the hype and frenzy, the initial is bound to be huge and its likely success with those of Wanted, Dabangg, Singham etc will ensure we have more 80s and 90s type of cinema returning. And that, really, is not a very good thing.