Today, the remake of Agneepath, produced by Karan Johar, and directed by his former assistant Karan Malhotra, flags off on the streets of Mumbai. It’s a night shoot that will extend to the early hours, featuring the film’s supporting cast. Hrithik Roshan who plays the underworld don, Vijay Dinanath Chauhan, will join the team later in the month, along with the romantic lead Priyanka Chopra, and Sanjay Dutt who takes over from Danny Denzongpa as the new bad man, Kancha Cheena.
The 1990 film was directed by the late Mukul Anand. Karan recalls visiting the sets in Mandwa during the filming of the climax when Amitabh Bachchan, the original Vijay, runs through flames. Kancha is killed in an encounter and Vijay is fatally wounded. Reciting Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s famous poem, Agneepath, he explains his reasons for taking to a life of crime and breathes his last with his head cradled in his mother, Suhasini’s (Rohini Hattangadi) lap.
"I remember my father (producer Yash Johar) in a light pink shirt, sweating profusely, personally overseeing the arrangements. He wanted it to be a smooth run for Mr Bachchan and it was," says Karan 11 years later, adding that his reasons for remaking Agneepath is that it’s a film his dad was really proud of, and had been shattered when it failed commercially.
Karan promises that this tribute to his dad’s memory will make the box-office ring as he had intended. He, as a result, has reworked the original script, doing away with the character of the coconut seller Krishnan that fetched Mithun Chakraborty a best supporting actor award.
Hrithik reiterates that the remake is a radically different film: “During the narration, I reacted emotionally to the subject as a new story with no strings attaching it to the old one. Had the intention been to just recreate the earlier film, I would not have done it. But what I heard sparked off my interest and I told myself, ‘I can do this, I will enjoy doing it!’”.
Mukul Anand had admitted to being inspired by the Hollywood classic Scarface. Vijay Dinanath Chauhan was modelled on Manya Surve, the first underworld gangster to be shot dead in a police encounter in Mumbai. Bachchan came up with a National Award-winning performance and even tried to copy the gangster’s voice. The husky impersonation, so unlike his usual baritone, had alienated the audience initially, and he had to redub his lines in his original voice.
“But in later years, whenever I recited my father’s lines from Agneepath, I have done it in a husky whisper and been flooded with compliments,” says Bachchan, who’s looking forward to seeing Hrithik’s spin on one of his most famous characters.
Hrithik refuses to reveal what improvisations he has up his sleeve but insists that the motive is not to take on Bachchan. He recalls watching the original film in a theatre with a group of children. He reminisces, “I was completely blown away by Mr Bachchan’s look and voice. I remember the background score (based on the 1986 song, Rendez-Vous-2…by French composer Jean Michel Jarre) and the sounds of the eagle flying.”