Sonntag, 29. April 2012

Agneepath (2012) - Review in English

About the story: In order to keep the inhabitants of the island Mandwa under his family's rule, the ruthless Kancha (Sanjay Dutt) promises to build a salt factory which shall bring wealth to Mandwa, provided the people lease their land to him on long-term basis. When the teacher Dinanath Chauhan (Chetan Pandit) advices the people not to follow Kancha, the latter frames him for a horrible crime and, in an act of public lynchlaw, hangs him to death. Now he can carry out his real plans – to make Mandwa his empire of cocaine production and to gain the reign over Mumbai. But there is already another man ruling: the drug smuggler and flesh trader Rauf Lala (Rishi Kapoor) who successfully prevents Kancha from rising over the next fifteen years – not least thanks to his right hand Vijay Chauhan (Hrithik Roshan). As a child he had joined Lala's camp to gain enough power for taking revenge on Kancha, and for this destination he will stop for nothing...

Mukul S Anand's movie Agneepath from 1990 has cult status in India, especially Amitabh Bachchan's performance as Vijay which earned him a National Award. So the news of Karan Johar, son of the late Yash Johar who produced Anand's Agneepath, planning a remake of that movie was met with great scepticism. Alone for the inevitable comparisons with the original hardly anyone gave a real chance to this new Agneepath.

But for Karan Johar this film was a matter of his heart as his father always had considered Agneepath one of his favourite movies and never had gotten over it that the film had flopped at the box office. With this new interpretation of the old story Karan wanted to add the hit tag to the name Agneepath in arrears. From the very beginning he asked not to make comparisons with the original: the new Agneepath would not be a remake but a tribute to the original; they would only take the core of the story but tell it completely new. At the beginning of the credits, Karan clothed his motivation in words: "Agneepath (1990) was an extremely special film to my father. Amit Uncle's (Amitabh Bachchan) absolute brilliance and Mukul S Anand's vision made it a pillar film for us at Dharma Productions. Revisiting, restructuring and adapting Agneepath is our humble way of paying homage to a film that has required a cult status over the years."

But Karan Johar did not intend to direct this revenge drama himself; at a press conference he quipped that the only violent scene he ever had created had been Amitabh slapping Hrithik in K3G. So he left the director's chair to the man who had come up with the idea for Agneepath's new interpretation and written it: Karan Malhotra. The newbie director turned out to be a lucky find for the Agneepath project. He had the good sense to evade any comparisons by portraying Vijay and Kancha unlike the characters Amitabh Bachchan and Danny Denzongpa had played and by deleting the original's third cult figure, Mithun Chakraborty's Krishnan Iyer MA, completely; instead he invented the (in the word's double meaning) flesh trader Rauf Lala. So only the motive of the clash Vijay-Kancha was left in the new story which Malhotra staged and filmed in colourful and monumental pictures and with a good share of blood and violence.

The expectations skyrocketed after the promos; especially Sanjay Dutt's bald and scary look as Kancha and Katrina Kaif's spirited item number "Chikni Chameli" were the talks of the town. And still even Karan Johar probably couldn't believe his ears when, on January 26, 2012 (Republic Day), Agneepath beat the start record of Bodyguard, became a huge success overseas and finally was rated a Super Hit in India, having scored more than Rs 125 crore which made it one of the most successful Hindi films of all times.

In part this was surely thanks to the popular stars who had delivered terrific performances one and all, but in a significant part it was also thanks to the plot and the way it was filmed. Malhotra set his Agneepath movie in the years 1977 (back story) and 1992 (main story), and by going back to the raw and grounded masala and action films of that era he satisfied the longings of those film buffs who just can't acquire a taste for the slick, cool, west-oriented and more and more computer-generated films of the recent years. "Finally we got action without special effects again!" was the tenor of many comments from the public, and this paraphrases best what the Agneepath audience (surely also the audience of films like Singham and Dabangg) wants: Indian movies with heroes and villains, raw emotions and also crude violence – and not the recently strained "on par with Hollywood".

It fits perfectly that, of all cast members, two veterans of the Hindi cinema dominate this Agneepath movie: Sanjay Dutt and Rishi Kapoor. Especially Rishi was the big surprise package. As he had never played a villainous role before he even had insisted on a look test as he had not been sure whether he would be able to pull off a role like Rauf Lala. But his qualms had been causeless; he delivered an absolutely convincing performance, and I wouldn't be astonished if he and not Sanjay would sweep all the best villainous role awards next year. It would surely not be undeserved.

On the other hand, Sanjay doesn't need to hide behind Rishi at all. Even for him Kancha was a new experience, in spite of so many former villainous roles like Khalnayak, Raghubhai etc, because never before he had played a man as crazed, excentric, unpredictable and thoroughly evil as Kancha. He devoted his body and soul to this role – even his hair, for when the prosthetics they first tried to use became unbearable in the heat of Diu and started melting away, Sanjay without further ado decided to shave off his hair and go bald. With this look (which awarded him attributes like "Voldemort" and "The Dark Lord of Bollywood") and in black clothes which often exposed all his tattoos and his big muscles, Sanjay created a movie villain who can well be mentioned in the same breath as Gabbar Singh and Mogambo; a madman who lives his own version of the Bhagvad Gita and ruthlessly uses and suppresses people for his purposes. Especially Kancha's devilish grin and his zero-tolerance brutality are getting under the audience's skin – even for Sanjay himself who openly admitted that during the dubbing for the climax he asked for a break because he couldn't stand himself anymore and seriously wondered whether that monster on the screen really was him.

Hrithik Roshan cannot quite hold a candle to both his outstanding co-stars but in any case he managed to shape his own Vijay, without any referring to the character played by Amitabh, and that was a good thing. Karan Malhotra made his contrahents Vijay-Kancha remind of David and Goliath, true to the motto: the more powerful and larger-than-life the villain, and the more chanceless the hero seems in front of him, the more glorious is the hero's victory in the end when he outgrows himself and defeats the villain. Though Vijay is everything else than a little innocent; while still a child (very well played by Arish Bhiwandiwala), he already was angry and rebellious, and later, while striving for power and revenge, he kills his opponents as ruthlessly as Kancha had killed his father which doesn't really make Vijay stand on moral high ground. The only thing which still differs Vijay from Kancha is the fact that Vijay still kept some humaneness in him – and especially in these parts Hrithik is very touching. But his action scenes are impressive too, above all the extensive showdown against Sanjay where both of them don't spare each other and especially Sanjay stretches Hrithik to the limit.

Agneepath belongs totally to Sanjay and Rishi and (with a tiny little gap) Hrithik. Priyanka Chopra as Vijay's bubbly and life-loving childhood friend Kaali provides the film with some moments of rest and feelgood amongst all the dark gang wars and revenge actions. However, Kaali's romance with Vijay is nothing more than an addition to the main plot, and too bad also that due to copyright hassles the beautiful song "Oh Saiyyan" picturised on Hrithik and Priyanka had to be deleted from the film. A very pleasant surprise is young Kanika Tiwari, casted away from the school desk to play Vijay's little sister Shiksha. Zarina Wahab and Chetan Pandit as Vijay's parents and Om Puri as Gaitonde are solid and reliable. In fact, there are no failures in the cast; a special mentioning should be made for Rajeysh Tondon as Rauf Lala's rebellious son Mazhar.

In short: The gamble Agneepath paid off. For Karan Malhotra who made a dream debut as a director. For Sanjay Dutt who, for the first time in many years, could celebrate an undisputed film success again and whose market value considerably rose again after Agneepath. And for Karan Johar who not only could gift his late father the desired Super Hit Agneepath but also made a nice amount of money with it. Guess all this was worth the change of the Dharma Productions logo which Karan decided to make after the first trailer had come out – the familiar tunes from KKHH didn't really match the violent contents of the trailer. So they were replaced by the stirring tunes of "Deva Shree Ganesha" from the Agneepath soundtrack. One of the many right decisions for this successful film which definitely is worth more than one watch.

For a change, this time I leave the closing words to Sanjay Dutt himself who admitted at the end of the release day, "I am overwhelmed at the reactions for Agneepath. I visited some popular single screen theatres and was taken aback by the audience's response! I was stunned when they started whistling and clapping at my entry. The noise was deafening. I felt on top of the world! I never expected such big opening collections either. People have complimented me on my range as an actor - that I can play both the lovable Munnabhai and the horrible Kancha with ease. It's a very good feeling to be praised like that. When you work hard and get such tremendous appreciation from both fans and friends, you feel a real sense of achievement."

Produced by Hiroo Yash Johar, Karan Johar; Directed by Karan Malhotra
174 Min.; DVD: Eros, English Subtitles (including songs); Bonus DVD: Film Making, Song Making, Deleted Scenes, Deleted Song

Official Website
Making of Agneepath - Kancha's Character
Deadly Sanjay Dutt rocks - Congrats to "Kancha"
Hindi Cinema Blog: LOVING SANJAY DUTT = LOVING KANCHA? (by Diwali)

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