A principled school teacher is murdered by a goon. His son grows up with a single goal: revenge.
In the island of Mandwa, a little off the shore of Bombay, a righteous schoolteacher is framed and hung by a tree in punishing rain as his 12-year-old son Vijay weeps uncontrollably at his feet. The key instigator of this lynch-mob execution is crime-lord Kancha Cheena (Sanjay Dutt). In these parts, he plays god, though, he always acts like the devil.
Scarred forever, the boy, Vijay Dinanath Chauhan -- Hrithik Roshan when he grows up -- is consumed by a desire for revenge as he leaves for Bombay with his pregnant mother. Every breath he takes, every move he makes, thereafter, is guided by that desire for retribution. Nothing can stop him, not even his mother abhorring his ways, as he heads towards a frenetic and gruesome confrontation with Kancha.
Remakes are tricky affairs. Expectations are invariably high and comparisons are inevitably made. Old-timers hope to find the scent of a pleasing memory. And those watching it with a fresh pair of eyes expect it to be a cut above the general fare, something worthy of a remake. It's a tough task.
But the new Agneepath isn't a cyclostyled copy of the 1990 film which was made by Yash Johar -- producer Karan Johar's father -- and which won Amitabh Bachchan a national award. The new movie walks its own line. New characters emerge. One of them is Rauf Lala played by Rishi Kapoor. With kajal in his eyes and poison on his tongue, Kapoor makes for a remarkable authentic villain as the goon cum girl-trafficker. Some lovable characters of the earlier edition are dumped. You don't have Krishnan Iyer MA Nariyalwala, the part that won Mithun Chakraborty a Filmfare Award.
But debutant director Karan Malhotra works hard with the new script that he has co-penned. There's both style and craft in the way he builds the film's opening and closing scenes. You feel you are in the middle of a real execution. And he gets honest work from the acting ensemble, including Priyanka Chopra who works hard to impress in the small role of a sex-worker's smart daughter. But the movie's standout performer is Sanjay Dutt. Bald, tattooed and dressed in all black, he turns the main villain Kancha Cheena into a profile in evil.
But Dutt's performance doesn't entirely help the movie's cause. On the contrary, it upsets Agneepath's symmetry. Compared to him, the more restrained and refined Hrithik, normally a competent performer, often appears pale. Vijay is obsessed with killing Kancha. That single-minded obsession doesn't come across. The protagonist is carrying a wound in his heart. There is no evidence of it on Hrithik's face. In the 1990 Mukul Anand version, the young and old Vijays blended seamlessly into each other. Here they don't.
Innovatively lensed, partly in Diu, Agneepath is a visual delight. But there's no greater feast for the eyes than Katrina Kaif, who shakes and trembles in delirious delight to the aptly-named track, Chikni Chameli. It's a paisa vasool performance guaranteed to make millions of men happy, and not just in small-town single screen theatres.