x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Sanjay Dutt: will his villain in Agneepath match Bachchan's original?

The Bollywood actors Hrithik Roshan, Priyanka Chopra and Sanjay Dutt talk about the forthcoming Agneepath remake.

From left, Hrithik Roshan, Priyanka Chopra and Sanjay Dutt at last week’s press conference ahead of the screening in Dubai of the remake of Agneepath. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
From left, Hrithik Roshan, Priyanka Chopra and Sanjay Dutt at last week’s press conference ahead of the screening in Dubai of the remake of Agneepath. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Stepping into the shoes of an iconic villain is risky business in filmland. Heath Ledger managed it with terrifying panache in The Dark Knight, making Jack Nicholson's earlier rendition of the Joker look like a children's party entertainer by comparison. Vince Vaughn, however, is probably not going to be remembered for his attempt to take on Norman Bates in 1998's largely forgettable remake of Psycho. Watching the film now is an even less frightening prospect, given that most of his performances since have involved silly faces and romantic comedies.

On Thursday, Bollywood fans in the UAE will be able to decide whether Sanjay Dutt has done a Ledger or a Vaughn when the remake of Agneepath is released. The original 1990 cult classic gave us Kancha Cheena, the deadly crime baron played by Danny Denzongpa, who tastes the vengeance of Amitabh Bachchan's Vijay Deenanath Chauhan for killing his father.

In Karen Malhotra's debut feature as director, it's Dutt who is trying out Cheena's maniacal laugh, and many are already suggesting he's taken Ledger's path and given the villain an even more terrifying look. So terrifying, in fact, that he managed to shock himself.

"We were dubbing for the climax and after about 10 minutes I stopped and said I needed a break for some fresh air," says the veteran actor, dubbed the "original rock star of Bollywood". "Karan asked me if anything was wrong, and I said I couldn't see myself like this, I'm scaring myself."

His look for Kancha, with a bald head, deep sunken eyes and silver earring, was also enough to terrify the lead actor. "He scared me for sure," says Hrithik Roshan, who takes on Bachchan's award-winning role of the revenge-seeking Vijay. "He managed to throw me out of character so many times."

Roshan said that he was apprehensive about taking the challenge. "I was against doing a remake, especially when the remake is of such a classic," says the actor, who last year became the fifth Indian star to be modelled in London's Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. "In my head, I just kept saying: why destroy the sanctity of something that is so amazing? Why go there, especially when Mr Bachchan has done what he has done in that film. Why do that to myself?"

But Roshan says that when he was shown the script, he was convinced. "The screenplay broke all my preconceived emotions. It went through all the layers and hit my heart."

Initially, Dutt's menacing bald look was to be applied using prosthetics, but he claims they kept melting during the shoot. "After a few days I had had enough, so I shaved my head," he says, adding that this was something he had to do several times as shooting was extended. "At the end of the schedule I said, is there anything left? And they said no. So my hair grew back a little bit. And then they said they had to shoot some scenes again, so I shaved my head again. I asked again, and they said no, so it grew back. And after a month they said, there's a song …"

Happily without a bald head or prosthetics is Priyanka Chopra, who plays Roshan's childhood friend and eventual love interest Kaali Gawde, a role that was introduced for the remake. "Playing Kaali was very special," says Chopra. "For me, I feel she is the soul and the softness in the film."

While the film is produced by Bollywood heavyweight Karan Johar, whose father Yash Johar produced the 1990 original, Chopra suggests that this - and the story's original premise - are the only links between the two. "What is fascinating about Agneepath is that Malhotra has evolved it in his own vision. Both Roshan and Dutt have played their parts incredibly differently. You will never feel it's the same Mr Bachchan or the same Danny. They're not the same people anymore and it feels like a new movie."

The Agneepath trailer showcases intense and bloody fighting between Roshan and Dutt, plus love scenes between the lead and Chopra, with typical smouldering eyes and - of course - a splash of rain.

The original film - considered by some to be a loose adaptation of Scarface while also inspired by a real-life Mumbai gangster - may have gone on to become a cult favourite, but on release it tanked at the box office. Whether Agneepath 2012 will suffer a similar fate remains to be seen, but initial reports suggest it should do well. Whether Roshan and Dutt's performances manage to produce the same feelings towards the main characters as Bachchan and Denzongpa is another matter entirely. "It's a mammoth task to take on a film like this," admits Chopra. "The actors have to play parts that have already been played and remembered."