Long 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.
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.
This 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. The plot leaps at you through its sanguinary design, building brick by brick an edifice of low-life and high-drama.
This new-rage 'Agneepath' retains the core of Mukul Anand's failed drama. And yes, it retains Harivnansh Rai's 'Agneepath' poem, though, alas, we don't get to hear Amitabh Bachchan recite the lines.
Karan 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.
Sanjay Dutt is delightfully in form. During the 'Chikni chameli' song when he quizzes the newly-arrived Mandwa-resident Vijay on why he's where he is, Sanjay'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, he delivers a bludgeoning homage to skin-crawling villainy. A glorious departure from his lover-boy image.
The prolonged sequence where Hrithik 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.
'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 Malhotra's storytelling.
Barring Priyanka Chopra who seems strangely cosmetic in a land of looming credibility, every character shines through the crime-drama maze.
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; 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.
Karan Malhotra revels in the language of commercial Hindi cinema. The characters in Vijay's chawl are all good-hearted. Every character in Kancha's kingdom is a creep or a coward. The battle lines are tightly drawn. The pace is breakneck.
The mob scenes of violence and religion often merge on the streets of Mumbai and in the lawless backwaters of the imaginary Mandwa. The narrative features a Gokul Ashthami matki-breaking sequence at the start and a Ganesh visarjan sequence towards the end, both shot spectacularly on Mumbai streets.
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 the film 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 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 get his groove back. In gory detail.Rating: **** (Four Star)