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Subhash K. Jha reacts after watching RGV Ki Aag

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By: Subhash K. Jha, IndiaFM
Thursday, September 06, 2007

No, this isn't the worst re-make you're likely to see. Nor does Ram Gopal Varma's Aag claim to have the wherewithal, the stock, substance and spice of Sippy's Sholay.

Let's just call Aag an interesting revisionist version of Sholay and be done with. The biggest mistake we can make while watching Varma go back to his favourite film (with his favourite actor, Amitabh Bachchan, playing a role that has already been done to 'dread') is to look for signs symbols and signals from the past.

Varma is to blame for doing some sequences as parodic homages to Sippy's Sholay. What is that, if not a tittering tribute to the original, when the neo-Samba (played by a Varma regular Ravi Kale) comes back after being hammered by the two mercenary heroes. Bachchan -Babban does the Kitne aadmi tthey scene like a rude game of Russian roulette with the stakes being life and death.

Trouble is, Ramu treats the classic material with an iconoclastic take-it-or-edit-it-out casualness. Some of the original's most celebrated sequences (such as Jai going to Basanti's Mausi with Veeru's rishta) have been defiantly and not quite definitively subverted to suit the stench of gangsterism that Varma's cinema embraces almost intuitively. Every time he looks at human relations within a specific socio-political context, it's almost always the underworld.

The biggest failing of Varma's revisionist Sholay is its locational dereliction. The action unfolds in a series of indeterminate disembodied locations, mainly run-down ware-houses, half-constructed high-rise buildings and sets that seem to suggest nothing beyond the immediate present that exists between the 'action' and 'cut'.

Cut to Sippy's Sholay where the boulder-centric locations defined the outlaw's menacing evil with geo-political accuracy…or the Thakur's bustling family- home where the villain's savage carnage occurred.

Here the slaughter of the police inspector's family is strictly ritualistic…designed to shock rather than create a distending drama of dread and vendetta through the poignant annihilation of the family nucleus.

Mr. Bachchan invests the villain's part with loads of nuanced diabolism, wacky humour and seemingly casual one-liners.

"Wait till his family hears this news break," puns the film's boisterous baddy Babban after breaking off some of police inspector Narsimha (Mohanlal)'s finger.

Sanjeev Kumar's chopped hand from Sholay becomes Mohanlal's severed fingers in Aag. The silently weeping-widow Radha from Sholay is transformed into a mutedly militant medico with not even a medical kit by her side to prove her sincerity towards her profession. And the post-Holi dacoit's attack on Sholay become a Diwali mayhem in Aag. Festival sideline?

Inexcusably the action scenes (Pradhyumna) and the other technical aspects including the camera work (by Amit Roy who was so incredibly outstanding in some of Varma's earlier films) don't seem to liven up the luminous antecedents of this purported homage to a timeless film.

Barring one major sequence between Babban and his morally antithetical brother(Sachin), some light moments between Ghungroo the auto-ricksaw siren and Rehmat (Gaurav Kapoor) the blind Muslim patriarch's playful son, and some perfunctory scenes between the vengeful cop and his non-practising medico-bahu(a.k.a as the widow in black) the inter-relationships among the character just don't hold together,

Specially damaging to the neo-plot is the complete lack of camaraderie between the new-millennium Jai and Veeu, now known as Raj and Heero. Devgan and newcomer Prashaant Raj (competent in glimpses) look like two acquaintances who have recently met at a railway station. Simply playing Yeh dosti as part of the background score (judicious mix of nostalgia and modernity by Amar Mohile) doesn't help create any bonding between the supposed buddies.

No, I am not going to think about the warm vibes between Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra in Sholay…Or the clean but carnal chemistry between Veeru and Basanti here reduced a touchy-touchy-feely-feely sticky liaison between Devgan and Nisha Kothari (she knows how to act, but now how much).

I'd still run back and view Ramu's revisionist Sholay for the pleasure of watching Mr Bachchan's Babban flick his tongue over his lips in a mix of menace and mischief, and for seeing the way Varma has steered the original material through murky waters to give Sholay a new-age look, albeit a look that's more bleak than bright.

But then who said movies were always about light?

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