Agneepath released at a time (1990) when the media was convinced that Amitabh on his way out, right after two high-profile films by two Midas-touch film-making houses (Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra) that did badly (Toofan and Jaadugar). Prior to that, the jury was divided on how well Shahenshah actually did and Ganga Jamuna Saraswati was liked only by die-hard fans. He had an off-beat foray (Main Azaad Hoon) in between as well, which - despite a brilliant performance - did not do too well.
It released at a time when Amitabh was clearly ageing, when people wanted him to push the envelope a bit but rejected the one off-beat film he did.
In Agneepath, Amitabh did not just push the envelope but tried to tear it into little pieces and throw it away!
For starters, it was the first time a mainstream Hindi film had a hero whose age was declared to 36 years (9 months, 8 days and 16 hours - to be precise). After so many years of gasping, wheezing, potbellied heroes prancing around in college, this was quite a stunner.
And, it was the first time Amitabh Bachchan discarded his traditional baritone for a rasping sort of voice. This was like getting Sachin Tendulkar to start playing hockey. But like Sachin who would probably become the leading goal-scorer in hockey as well, Amitabh did an amazing job of doing the voice, which was said to be modeled on Mumbai don Varadarajan Mudaliar.
By the way, does anyone know how Amitabh's character got the rasping voice in the film? No?
Well, a pivotal scene in the film was when the young Amitabh had to single-handedly carry his father's dead body for cremation (as none of the villagers were willing to help the disgraced schoolmaster). And in the straining, the kid's vocal chords got damaged.
Okay - I am guessing because this is never said in the film but Manjunath's cute voice at the beginning of the film gets raspy right after the body-pulling scene.
The story was hardly anything novel - about a kid growing up to take revenge for this father's framing and murder.
The names - funnily enough - were.
Amitabh was Vijay Dinanath Chavan (which is pronounced as Chauhan through out the film), probably the Maratha scion protecting his city (or at least the underworld) from the foreign hand (Kancha Cheena, played by Danny Denzongpa), the South Indian encroacher (Anna Shetty, played by Dilip Shirke), the Muslim don (Usman, played by Avtar Gill) and the man of vague origins (Terylene, played by Sharat Saxena).
In between, there was a romantic-comic track helmed by Krishnan Iyer M.A (strangely, from Kerala University) - played by Mithun Chakraborty in a Filmfare Award winning role but I digress.
Why do I like Agneepath?
It had dynamite dialogue. Period. No other reason.
After Coolie and Sharaabi (both of which were in 1982/3) and to some extent, Mard, we hadn't seen an Amitabh film which had several blockbuster, hair-raising scenes with memorable, repeat-after-ten-years dialogue. Shahenshah had that one line ("Rishtey mein to main...") but otherwise, they had pretty much buried the dialogue-writer (not to mention, the screenplay guy)! Actually, very few Amitabh films have such a wealth of potent dialogues as Agneepath.
And the dialogues started even before Amitabh appeared on screen.
The eponymous poem is one written by Harivansh Rai Bachchan - which is the opening dialogue of the film - is a beautiful one and I remember only the last part it.
Yeh mahaan drishya hain, chal raha manushya hain / Ashwa shwet rakta se lakpath lakpath lakpath / Agneepath agneepath agneepath.
And the climax replicates these lines. Almost literally.
Also, the famous 'Naam Vijay Dinanath Chavan...' dialogue is actually started by the kid Vijay in front of Inspector Gaitonde and then as the inspector crosses over in front of the kid, the adult Amitabh is revealed in a rain of coins and thunder of whistles (at Menoka cinema of Calcutta).
And the scene ends with the even more explosive (or melodramatic, if you are not an Amitabh fan) "Aaj shaam chhe bajey maut ke saath mera appintment hain. Appintment - English bolta hain."
In a fantastic reprise of a dialogue, which Deepak Shirke says when Vijay is a kid, he barges into the slum area where the don stays and says, "Dekho. Socho. Samjho. Yeh ladka aaj chingaari. Kal bada hokar hum sab ko zinda jala diya toh kya karengey?"
And proceeds to burn him alive!
When Amitabh walks into his den after recovering from a near-fatal attack on him, the phone rings. The guy at the other end asks who he is and hearing the name, says - "Tumko toh ludkane ke waastey..."
Amitabh growls back, "Yeh chhe foot ka body ludkane ke liye char inch ka goli kum pad gaya. Maloom?"
To describe a police inspector's loose morals, he tells the Commissioner - "Pandrah sau rupiyah ki pagaar mein ghar nahin chalta toh imaan kaise chalega, Gaitonde saab?"
To explain the secret of his success - "Is duniya mein tarakki karne ke liye naa bolna bahut zaroori hain..."
There is one scene which has no great lines but he transforms with his personality.
He walks into his bosses' den (who were planning to kill him) and says, "Hum ko ludkane hain to ludkao. Hum khayega. Tumhara goli seene pe khayega. Hum mar gaya to yeh kursi bhi tumhara, yeh dhanda bhi tumhara. Lekin, main bach gaya toh..." He laughs ominously and turns to leave.
Just as his bosses sighed in relief, he turns around sharply, takes the gun out of his belt and throws it on the table. Then says, "Hamare tumhare ladai mein jeet iski nahin, iski (points to his forehead) hogi..."
Apart from that, there are several scenes in the film that takes the Amitabh myth to epic levels.
The best example is one where Amitabh reaches Mauritius to meet Kancha Cheena and his entire journey from the aircraft to the yacht is filmed very flatteringly (from low angles, making him look like a giant). Eventually, a grenade is lobbed on his yacht - which drops right at his foot. As Amitabh looks at it almost amused, the yacht blows up. Kancha Cheena pops a bottle of champagne to celebrate.
Amitabh emerges out of the azure sea. Walks on to the beach and says, "Waqt se pahuchne ka mera purana aadat hain. Aaj thoda late hone ke liye maafi chahta hain. Kissi ne mere upar keechad uchhalne ka koshish kiya. Isliye maine use pani se dho dala..."
Illogical. And exhilarating.
Oh - he, then, takes off his wet jacket and puts it on the bikini-clad Archana Puran Singh. "Andar chale jao. Sardi lag jayega." Bloody cool!
There is the scene, where he takes four bullets and collapses splendidly.
And the subsequent scenes where takes out his adversaries one by one and drops the bullets at their dead bodies.
And another scene, where he runs - with a sword in his hand - through a mile of slum lanes to save his sister. Incidentally, his chief henchman in the film is Pradeep Rawat (who eventually had the distinction being the only villain to have a film named after him)!
And, the final scene where he literally goes through a 'path of fire'.
The entire scene - which starts with his running form silhouetted against the setting sun and culminates in his running through fire, getting riddled by bullets to pulverize Kancha Cheena - should figure not in examples of great cinema but in the annals of devotional literature, since only God in his various avatars has been eulogised in such a manner.
Look, I could go on. But for how long?
Do me a favour. Buy the DVD and watch it. I promise it will be worth it. Every penny of it.
Think about it. What other option do you have? Watching De Dhana Dhan?