Sunday, February 12, 2012

Karan Calling Karan

The recent version of Agneepath, a film which Mr Karan Johar and Mr Karan Malhotra sold to us under the disguise of a remake and as "redemption for the failure of the original which was my father Yash Johar's dream", has been receiving inexplicably rave reviews, and unprecedented box office earnings. I had a few things to say about it and, well, I have no other platform. So here goes. We are well beyond the stage of ‘bear with me’.

Suffer with me.

1. This is not a remake.

Just think for a second. If I change only two names- Vijay Dinanath Chauhan and Kancha Cheena- this is only a story of a boy who grows up to avenge his father’s death at the hands of a drug smuggler, and uses another gangster on his rise to the top. Now consider the sheer plethora of films that alludes to: everything from countless Bachchan and Mithun films, through Parinda, to Soldier. Yes, I agree that these arguments apply to the original film also, but the original film was a pretty generic film: if you are going to remake a generic film by revering it, you may as well remake it exactly, instead of turning it into an even more generic film. Dharma Productions should simply have stuck to their guns and given us a full throated 80s style potboiler (and, as Dabangg and Singham have clearly shown us, such films are virtually unbeatable at the box office right now) instead of using an established film’s name and cheating us.

2. The 80s Renaissance.

It seems that the 70s are over. We re-discovered the 70s, re-made a bunch of Bachchan films, celebrated the decade affectionately with Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om and Once Upon A Time In Mumbai, and then called it quits. We have now moved on to the 80s. So films are now largely remakes of Southern blockbusters (and, apparently, only the language changes, not the volume), ‘Heroes’ are back with their dialogue-baazi, larger-than-life villains have returned, and, as Agneepath has shown us, so have the Thakurs and Munim-jis. I am incredibly, extremely petrified. Nothing has prepared me for films which would make Jeetendra nostalgic.

3. The Bifurcation.

This is a very interesting time in the industry, akin to the late 70s and the 80s, when the burgeoning art film movement and the increasingly crass masala movies were clearly dividing the audiences. On one hand, this unexpected and inexplicable 80s renaissance that threatens us currently seems to be sprouting films and almost pushing our helpless selves back by about three decades (or more, considering the films of the 80s were old-fashioned even in the 80s); on the other, we are also being pulled forward, as we are served regular helpings of the modern and beyond with films like Love, Sex & Dhokha, Rockstar, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Delhi Belly. The net result is, I suppose, that we are standing still.

4. Don’t change genres.

The 1990 Agneepath was a gangster film. That is a well-established genre, with roots ranging back to the 1930s, with its own rules, conventions and tropes. The 2012 Agneepath, on the other hand, is a vendetta film, which is an equally well-established and explored genre, with its own specific rules, conventions and tropes. The former charts the rise and fall of a criminal- the alliances, the betrayals, the unexpected love of a good woman which humanizes him, the injustice doled out to the gangster so that we root for him, and ultimate punishment in death- these are the beats every gangster must invariably hit, be it The Public Enemy or Vaastav. The focus here is on a compelling character. A vendetta film, however, must pit a smaller, weaker being against a larger evil where the former must eventually take his revenge against the latter for some past injustice. The focus is on plot. You can’t change the genre of a film when you remake it! Because when you insist on changing the genre, you change its grammar. The narrative changes from a character-driven story to a plot-driven one. That is why the older version, at a shorter duration and containing several more sub-plots, seemed to narrate a fuller, more spacious tale. That is why we unfairly spend the entire duration of the new film waiting for the inevitable confrontation between Hrithik Roshan and Sanjay Dutt, making everything else before it is simply a prelude- unlike the previous one, which had several memorable set pieces sprinkled throughout (like Bachchan’s entry, the muddy sequence in the slums, the Ganesh Visarjan). And that is why it makes no sense why Hrithik Roshan must suddenly seek his mother’s approval of his actions before he can die in peace when all through the film he, frankly, hasn’t given a damn.

5. Don’t end with the character’s death.

This may seem like a petty complaint, but it bugs me no end. Living in Cyprus, I used to watch Hindi films on pirated VHS tapes, which were often chopped off according to the pirate’s whims to fit the length of the tape. When I saw Devdas in 2002, the film ended with Shah Rukh Khan closing his eyes. It was a bit sudden, and I kept wishing for days after that that the film had a few more shots to round off the ending. When I saw the actual cut later, I was relieved to see shots of the lamp blowing off, and the incomplete tattoo on his hand. For some reason, this makes a big difference to me. I truly detest it when a film ends with the shot of the main character dying. It almost ruined Maqbool for me. The film is not the character- the character is part of the film. Is it that difficult to spend fifteen more seconds and finish the narrative with a couple of establishing shots? It brings a beautiful sense of closure, as evidenced in greats like Anand, Braveheart, Philadelphia, American Beauty and Guide. Mr Karan Malhotra, you made us sit nearly three hours- would thirty more seconds have killed you?

I didn’t like this film at all. I am not at all surprised that it has now taken the highest opening of all time. This is the same world, after all, where Bodyguard and Ready are the second and third highest grossers ever. One of these days I must create a mathematical formula describing the inverse relationship between the quality of a film and its box office earnings.


nivedita said...

You read the structure of movies well, but not everyone needs to confirm to them.

While non-confirmation may lead to a half-baked approach, we would never know whether a maker would ever compromise on his own interpretation.

nivedita said...

You read the structure of movies well, but not everyone needs to confirm to them.

While non-confirmation may lead to a half-baked approach, we would never know whether a maker would ever compromise on his own interpretation.