In a small Indian village Mandwa, Vijay Dinanath Chauhan (Hrithik Roshan) is taught by his principled father about the path of fire – Agneepath. His life is completely shattered when the evil drug dealer Kancha (Sanjay Dutt) hangs his father to death. Vijay leaves for Bombay with his pregnant mother and has only one mission in life- to come back to Mandwa and bring back the glory of his father’s name.

Mixed messages in revenge melodrama.

Only a spinning moral compass stops Karan Malhotra’s Agneepath from being the stuff that Bollywood’s melodramatic dreams are made of. Richly-detailed in every aspect of traditional Indian filmmaking and taking on an ambitious, multi-generational narrative arc, this sprawling 172-minute remake of Yash Johar’s widely-acclaimed 1990 original is a feast for the eyes, a slight strain on the ears and frustratingly difficult to connect with.

A potent series of early scenes establish the scarred mental state of our anti-hero, Vijay Dinanath Chauhan (a role earlier made famous by Amitabh Bachchan). He is first seen as a boy (played by Arish Bhiwandiwala), witnessing the slaying of his honourable school-teacher father at the hands of über-villain Kancha (a wonderfully OTT performance by strikingly-bald actor Sanjay Butt). We then catch up with him as a vengeance-seeking adult (the strapping physical specimen that is actor Hrithik Roshan).

Vijay has infiltrated the criminal world of Rauf Lala (Rishi Kapoor), rising to the position of right-hand man and surrogate son, all the time planning the downfall of his mentor and the revenge-murder of Kancha, now ruling with a murderous hand a massive drug-operation based in Vijay’s island homeland of Mandwa (a nightmarish hell-hole that recalls the jungle outpost of Colonel Kurtz’s in Apocalypse Now).

Agneepath is thematically a film about the honouring of one’s family, but so muddled is Vijay’s motivation it’s impossible to fully sympathise with him. His father intones Mahatma Gandhi’s famous words to the young boy – 'An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind" – yet the adult Vijay ignores the advice to avenge his father’s death in what plays out as an act of great hubris. Vijay has also ignored his mother (Zarina Wahab) since his father’s death, despite claiming he wants her acceptance; their inevitable meeting is ruined by Vijay’s petulant anger. He pines to be with the sister (Kanika Tiwari) he has not seen since her birth, but refuses to shake the bitterness towards his mother. A romance with the lovely beauty-store owner Kaali (Priyanka Chopra) is also hamstrung by Vijay’s sullenness.

Most difficult to stomach is Vijay’s ability to kill without remorse (and Malhotra’s enthusiasm in his staging of the shootings, stabbings, drownings and hangings). Agneepath is a work of vivid visual dexterity, but it’s often in the service of a morally-corrupt agenda; when Vijay leads a town-square full of dancers in the show-stopping dance number 'Deva Shree Ganesha,’ it’s hard to reconcile the joyous movements with the man’s dark spirit.

All of the dance numbers indicate that the very best in the business were involved; a thunderous finale in which Kancha and Vijay face-off (embodying the Ravan and the Ram of Indian mythology) goes on incessantly, though represents the pinnacle of the film’s exemplary production standards.

Details

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In Cinemas 26 January 2012,

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