In this series, we look at remakes of Hindi films in Hindi cinema—both the official and the ‘closet’ variety—to assess how they stand vis-a-vis the originals.
A pet project of producer Yash Johar, the 1990 Agneepath was directed by Mukul S. Anand, one of Hindi cinema’s earliest techno-savvy whizkids, whom Bachchan worked with also in later films that proved hits: Hum and his home production, Khuda Gawah.
Various theories have been put forward for the debacle of this Bachchan original: the dark feel that Bachchan fans never expected in his films (they had already rejected his Main Azaad Hoon just months before), the violence, the lack of a hit song (Laxmikant-Pyarelal in uncharacteristic indifferent mode in a Bachchan film). The film was, thus, not only a commercial failure but also a critically panned movie.
The gruff voice Bachchan initially used (which was rapidly corrected to his normal baritone after the feedback that Bachchan fans hated it) added to the reasons for this response.
Briefly, the story was of Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) avenging the dishonor and death of his scholarly father at the hands of a villain who saw him as an obstacle to his nefarious activities in a village. Vijay and his family move to the city, he becomes a gangster and one day gets his chance at revenge. However, he has now become a criminal, and must die in the end.
In those days when only return of investment counted due to a single principal revenue source—theatrical footfalls, the film grossed a decent amount, but failed to break even, though some sources claim that it did average business. Producer Yash Johar accepted failure, but it broke his spirit as he had believed in his product.
This was the main reason why Yash’s son Karan Johar decided to remake the film after his dad died, and got his assistant Karan Malhotra, also from the film clan as the son of veteran producer Ravi Malhotra, to watch the original and devise a contemporary remake. The script that Karan penned changed many of the characters and situations, but kept the core intact.
Agneepath (Path of Fire) was also the name of a poem by Dr. Harivanshrai Bachchan, Amitabh’s father, and the hero’s father recites it to his son in a crucial sequence. The climax in the original used it literally as Amitabh crosses a fiery path, but the remake’s climax saw only a metaphorical use and was panned.
In his most daring departure, Karan cast Hrithik Roshan as Vijay Dinanath Chauhan. We say this because, soon after the box-office failure, Agneepath got Amitabh the National Best Actor award and by one of those quirks of fate, slowly emerged as a cult film! And so, the prediction during the film’s making was unanimous: Hrithik would be a misfit!
But the two Karan’s had taken a shrewd gamble with Hrithik’s star power. And in place of a bald Danny as Kancha Cheena, came a second bald star attraction: Sanjay Dutt! Some characters were modified, but the comic character of Mithun Chakraborty as a South Indian graduate was removed. A new villain, Rauf Lala, also came in.
Karan’s father had worked for Rishi Kapoor, and Rishi was cast as Rauf Lala, giving a scene-stealing ‘hateful’ performance in the new film. Vijay’s sweetheart was no longer the Catholic (Madhavi), but a loquacious Marathi girl (Priyanka Chopra).
The new film cleverly incorporated an item song by Katrina Kaif (Chikni Chameli) that became a rage, and had mass-appeal music from Ajay-Atul. Their Ganpati festival song, Deva Shree Ganesha, caught on for a while (L-P’s Ganpati immersion song, Ganpati apne gaon chale, had worked in passing) and Sonu Nigam’s Abhi mujh mein kahin, was also appreciated.
The remake worked wonders at the b-o., crossing Rs. 100 crore in India, thanks to its cast, music and a Republic Day 2012 release. And his father’s faith in the original subject penned by Santosh Saroj was justified by Karan Johar, though it took him 21 years and 49 weeks to traverse the path of fire!
– Rajiv Vijayakar, a Senior Journalist, Film & Music Critic and Historian for Hindi cinema and Film Music is also an Author and Twice Jury Member at 58th and 62nd National Film Awards.
Rajiv Vijayakar tweets @rajivvijayakar
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