Film: 'Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag'; Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Mohanlal, Ajay Devgan, Sushmita Sen, Prashant Raj, Nisha Kothari; Director: Ram Gopal Varma; Rating: **
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 Ramesh Sippy's 'Sholay'.
Let's just call 'Aag' an interesting revisionist version of 'Sholay' and be done with it. The biggest mistake we can make while watching Varma go back to his favourite film is to look for signs and symbols from the past.
Varma is to blame for doing some sequences as parodic homages to Sippy's 'Sholay'. Bachchan as Babban does the 'Kitne aadmi the' 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, like Jai going to Basanti's Mausi with Veeru's rishta, have been defiantly 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 locations, mainly run-down warehouses, 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 drama of dread and vendetta.
Bachchan invests the villain's part with loads of nuanced diabolism, wacky humour and seemingly casual one-liners.
Sanjeev Kumar's chopped hand from 'Sholay' become Mohanlal's severed fingers in 'Aag'. The silently weeping-widow Radha from the 1975 classic is transformed into a militant medico. And the post-Holi dacoit's attack in 'Sholay' becomes a Diwali mayhem in 'Aag'.
Inexcusably, the action scenes and the camera work (by Amit Roy) 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-rickshaw siren, and Rehmat, the blind Muslim patriarch's playful son, and some perfunctory scenes between Mohanlal and Sushmita, the inter-relationships among the characters just don't hold together.
Specially damaging to the neo-plot is the complete lack of camaraderie between the new-millennium Jai and Veeru, now known as Raj and Heero. Devgan and newcomer Prashant Raj look like acquaintances who have recently met at a railway station.
Simply playing 'Yeh dosti' as part of the background score doesn't help create any bonding between the supposed buddies.
No, I am not going to think about the warm vibes between Bachchan and Dharmendra in 'Sholay'... or the chemistry between Veeru and Basanti, reduced here to a touchy-touchy liaison between Devgan and Nisha Kothari.
I'd still run back and view Ramu's revisionist 'Sholay' for the pleasure of watching Bachchan flick his tongue over his lips in a mix of menace and mischief. 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.