2 Stars (out of 4)
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Revenge thrillers seem easy to make because of the assumption that everyone can relate to the desire to avenge a loved one’s wrongful death. But being able to relate is not the same as caring, and writer-director Karan Malhotra doesn’t give the audience a reason to care whether the protagonist gets his revenge.
The story in Agneepath (“Path of Fire,” a remake of a 1990 film by the same name) centers on Vijay (Hrithik Roshan), who, as a 12-year-old boy, witnessed the murder of his pacifist father at the hands of Kancha (Sanjay Dutt), a drug lord intent on turning their quiet island of Mandwa into a hub of cocaine production.
Fifteen years later, Vijay is the right-hand man of Mumbai drug lord Rauf Lala (Rishi Kapoor). The unusual career move is part of Vijay’s convoluted long-term plan to acquire enough power to challenge Kancha and kill him, though it estranges him from his mother and young sister.
Agneepath is wonderfully atmospheric and beautiful to look at. Kancha lives in a dilapidated, evil-looking mansion decorated in deep blues and greys. Vijay’s sweetheart, Kaali (Priyanka Chopra), is depicted surrounded by vivid reds and cheerful colors. But the stunning visuals can’t distract from a story and characters that feel underdeveloped.
I’m willing to accept that Vijay chooses a method of revenge more complicated than 1) return to Mandwa, 2) shoot Kancha, in order to relay a parable about not abandoning one’s principles. But, for the parable to be effective, Vijay has to be a good guy at his core. I’m not convinced that he is.
Sure, he donates money to the impoverished residents of his neighborhood, but so does Rauf Lala. It’s an easy way for mafia dons to ensure that folks ignore their nefarious activities, and Lala is worse than most.
In addition to peddling drugs, Lala runs a sex-trafficking operation, selling young girls to the highest bidder. Not until Lala is hospitalized — and after Vijay has made himself Lala’s heir-apparent — does Vijay set the captive girls free. So, for fifteen years, Vijay turned a blind eye, as girls younger than his own sister were sold into prostitution. Not exactly the actions of a hero.
A bigger problem than whether Vijay really is Robin Hood at heart is that there’s not much character development to speak of. We just don’t know much about him. What does a sweet girl like Kaali see in Vijay? Why does righteous police inspector Gaitonde (Om Puri) have a soft spot for him?
Despite the movie being nearly three hours long, it feels as though the characters — especially Kaali and Kancha — have little to do. It’s an unfortunate waste of a talented cast. All of the emotional scenes are reserved for the final hour of the movie, well after the window for character development has closed.
The movie on the whole is terribly violent, particularly a machete killing spree performed by transvestite prostitutes. There are a couple of vibrant and entertaining dance numbers, including a cameo by Katrina Kaif, but they aren’t worth enduring the rest of Agneepath‘s overly-long story.