Okay, I’ve a confession to make.
I don’t remember much of 1990’s Agneepath.
I do recall Amitabh Bachchan being given life lessons by a cop who looked younger than he.
And I know I was on Danny Denzongpa’s side because I was a huge fan of Ajnabi.
What I’m trying to say is, when 2012’s Agneepath opens to a chorus of ‘Masterji!’ and a man who could be advertising Ujala marches up to the crowd, along with an aging woman in a sari, I assumed they were mother and son.
Turns out Zarina Wahab isn’t Chetan Pandit’s plump Ma, but his pregnant Biwi! So, all right, I spent a decade watching Nirupa Roy deliver babies in huts and lose them in fairs, but at least her husbands didn’t look like they’d stepped out of ads where they delight in the coffee their svelte wives make.
But the film goes uphill from there.
When the crusading Masterji Deenanath Chauhan takes on a contraband ring run by Kancha (Sanjay Dutt), the dark elements of the film come into play - the manner in which Chauhan is made out to be an enemy of the people is horribly unsettling, and the its outcome fills the viewer with a sense of foreboding that lasts right through.
Despite its three-hour duration, there’s no time for idyll in the film.
Every time our hero Vijay (Hrithik Roshan) is touched by hope, a reminder of the past haunts him.
His unwavering adherence to his mission is echoed in the focused storyline.
There are no good bad guys here, not even Vijay.
He seems to have no problem with the child prostitution racket run by his mentor Rauf Lala (Rishi Kapoor), as long as his childhood friend Kaali (Priyanka Chopra) and sister Shiksha (Kanika Tiwari) aren’t targeted.
Having cut off the fat of complicated parallel stories, the movie concentrates on characters and quirks.
When Vijay’s long-lost sister comes to the chawl she left as an infant, hordes of neighbours expect her to recognise them.
As Kaali does a hasty aarti with smoking coals for Vijay, she curses whoever’s thinking of him enough to cause him a coughing fit.
A beauty parlour board reads ‘We specialy in bridal makeup’.
While Agneepath has been marketed as a tribute, Hrithik Roshan plays a completely different Vijay.
He breaks into sobs, he seethes with rage, he remains calm even as his nerves recoil, he takes several beatings.
He brings in so many shades to the character that the viewer is left guessing whether he’s being calculating, callous, or loyal.
When Rauf Lala declares, “Ab mere do nahin, teen beten hain”, he smiles “Lekin teenon mein se ek shaheed honewala hai” on the day of Lala’s son’s wedding.
In retrospect, the line takes on sinister tones.
When he wells up, as he does several times, the tears are blinked away rapidly, and their remnants glisten in his eyes.
His intense scenes with Kancha are exquisite, and he looks so good that one sort of gets why Sanjay Dutt has a penchant for fondling him.
The slow morphing of his nervousness around his sister to devotion in the face of her open trust is portrayed in a nuanced manner.
The natural acting is aided by screenplay that accommodates spontaneity.
For instance, the shy Shiksha turns to her brother for approval before dancing in step with the boisterous Kaali.
Priyanka Chopra is likeable as the rustic, impulsive Kaali, giving her all for the man she loves, and yet strong enough to let him go when the time comes.
I can forgive her propensity to overplay her cuteness.
What I find hard to look past is the incongruity of a village belle coming up with, “Get moving!” While using the kitsch of symbolism - Vijay literally fills Rauf’s shoes - the film sidesteps several clichés.
It’s over the top at times, and dispels with the laws of physics when guns are fired, but I suppose that’s part of the tribute.
The film could have done without some manic ranting from Kancha about his looks, though.
And some below-par graphics.
And an awkward Katrina Kaif whose jiggles and thrusts are rather too vulgar.
Instead, Vijay’s relationship with Inspector Gaitonde (Om Puri) could have been fleshed out.
The Verdict: It’s not often masala and art make a miscible mix.
Here, it clicks.