Debuting helmer Karan Malhotra stokes up a fiery revenge tale in "Agneepath," an expensively pumped-up, relentlessly energetic retelling of the 1990 Amitabh Bachchan cult favorite of the same name.

Debuting helmer Karan Malhotra stokes up a fiery revenge tale in “Agneepath,” an expensively pumped-up, relentlessly energetic retelling of the 1990 Amitabh Bachchan cult favorite of the same name. Toplining Bollywood hunk Hrithik Roshan, this dynamic Hindi action extravaganza boosts its potent story with an aggressive style that will ensure audiences feel every blow. With a socko $4.3 million opening-day domestic haul that broke the first-day record set by “Bodyguard” last year, pic looks set to burn a bright B.O. path.

In the late 1970s on an island southwest of Mumbai, schoolteacher Chauhan (Chetan Pandit) is the lone force for good in a quasi-medieval fiefdom. Kancha (a hairless Sanjay Dutt, resembling Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now”), the son of the island’s ruler, returns home from the mainland to establish a cocaine cartel, drawing on the island’s natural coca resources. When Chauhan challenges Kancha, the aspiring crime boss frames the teacher for a young girl’s murder. The duped locals respond by stringing Chauhan up from a tree, a horrifying spectacle witnessed by Chauhan’s hot-tempered 12-year-old son, Vijay (electrifying youngster Arish Bhiwandiwala).

Escaping with his pregnant mother to Mumbai, Vijay develops a sulfuric desire for vengeance. Cunning beyond his years, the youth realizes that drug lord and sex-slave trafficker Rauf Lala (Rishi Kapoor), who terrifies Mumbai’s poverty-stricken Dongri district, could be useful in the quest to kill Kancha. The boy ingratiates himself with the gangster by playing dumb with the police after witnessing a crime.

When Vijay grows up (now played by Roshan), he becomes Lala’s right-hand man, a Robin Hood figure who uses his cut of their criminal proceeds to benefit the poor community that took him in. Vijay manipulates Lala, keeps his identity secret from Kancha, and strategizes around police interference as he circles toward the inevitable showdown.

Pic’s opening half refuses to relax, barely taking a breath between the violent shootouts, knife fights and an odd dance number by beauty-salon owner and love interest Kaali (Priyanka Chopra). Malhotra keeps the protagonist tight-lipped and the adrenaline levels high, so that Roshan’s limitations as an actor are evident only in a strained emotional reunion between Vijay and his mother (Zarina Wahab). Western auds will balk at the sudden sentimentality, but by this point the hook will be in deep. All other perfs are robust, with Dutt having a ball as the bald, black-garbed Kancha.

Helmer largely keeps the revenge plot paramount, laying the groundwork for a blood-soaked finale. Violence is impactful without being explicit, showing off skillful stunt work; expert cutting by Akiv Ali meshes well with the rampaging, drum-driven score by Ajay Gogavale and Atul Gogavale. Auds will feel exhausted by the final fadeout.

Dance numbers are better integrated into the overall narrative than is the Bollywood norm, as the pic often crosscuts between these musical sequences and the still-advancing drama. Lensing by Ravi K. Chandran and Kiran Deohans is mostly vibrant, but drained of color for the gothic climax on Kancha’s island.

Title comes from a poem taught to Vijay by his father, which refers to life as a “path of fire.”

Agneepath

India

Production

An Eros Intl. release of a Dharma Prods. production. (International sales: Eros Intl., Mumbai.) Produced by Karan Johar, Hiroo Yash Johar. Executive producers, Apoorva Mehta, Sumeet Chawla. Directed by Karan Malhotra. Screenplay, Ila Bedi Datta, Malhotra, Piyush Mishra, based on the screenplay "Agneepath" by Santosh K. Saroj.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Ravi K. Chandran, Kiran Deohans; editor, Akiv Ali; music, Ajay Gogavale, Atul Gogavale, Amitabh Bhattacharya; production designer, Sabu Cyril; costume designers, Mandira Shukla, Navin Shetty, Manish Malhotra; sound (Dolby Digital, DTS), Stephen Gomes; action director, Abbas Ali Moghul; choreography, Ganesh Acharya, Brinda, Firoz Khan, Saroj Khan, Chinni Prakash, Rekha Prakash. Reviewed at Event Cinemas, Sydney, Jan. 29, 2012. Running time: 174 MIN. (I: 88 MIN., II: 86 MIN.)

With

Hrithik Roshan, Sanjay Dutt, Priyanka Chopra, Rishi Kapoor, Arish Bhiwandiwala, Om Puri, Zarina Wahab, Chetan Pandit, Kanika Tiwari, Sachin Khedekar, Rajesh Tandon, Deven Bhojani, Katrina Kaif. (Hindi dialogue)

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