August 27, 2002 
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Amitabh Bachchan
Amitabh disappoints!
Even as Agni Varsha boasts of A-rate performances

Som Chivukla

Agni Varsha begins at the end of a seven-year sacrifice conducted by Paravasu (Jackie Shroff), a head priest. The king of a drought-stricken town invites him to perform the sacrifice to appease Lord Indra.

Paravasu had left behind all earthly possessions, including wife Vishaka (Raveena Tandon), brother Aravasu (Milind Soman) and father Raibhya (Dr Mohan Agashe).

Enter Yavakri (Nagarjuna), Vishaka's former lover, who has been in exile for ten years, performing severe penance to gain superpowers. He approaches the lonely Vishaka and the two rekindle their romance. But Yavakri, Paravasu's cousin, has sinister intentions. He wants to destroy Paravasu and take over as head priest.

Aravasu, too, has a story. He has set his eyes on acting. But being a Brahmin by birth makes it impossible for him to pursue a profession reserved for the low class. To make matters worse, he wants to marry a tribal girl Nittilai (Sonali Kulkarni). Aravasu is then faced with convincing his brother on both fronts.

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Raibhya, meanwhile, finds out about the illicit tryst. Enraged, he unleashes a demon (Prabhudeva) to kill Yavakri. In the subsequent fallout, Aravasu loses his chance to marry Nittilai.

If you think there is too much going on, you are right. Agni Varsha is the cinematic version of the acclaimed Girish Karnad play The Fire And The Rain. It is based on the legend of Yavakri, a subplot derived from the Mahabharata.

Arjun Sajnani --- who co-wrote the script with T Jayshree and Anil Mehta --- is a veteran of Indian theatre and makes his big screen debut with Agni Varsha. Overall, the results are applause worthy. Sajnani can be credited for paying close attention to the play as well as drawing stellar performances from the leads. Agni Varsha

Yet there are moments when you shake your head in confusion attempting to digest the subplots. Sajnani, apparently, rates the play so highly that he simply transfers it to the screen. Yavakri's appearance sets off a chain of events leading to the film's climax, where Aravasu has to choose between fulfilling his desires and doing his duty (karma).

To the director's credit, the film does not drag. The running time is at just over two hours, but does include a couple of ill-placed songs.

Agni Varsha is mainly boosted by A-rate performances. It is rare that big name actors take up a project such as this, and it pays off handsomely.

Shroff discards his moustache to become Paravasu. His understated performance far exceeds expectations in what may be his best role to date. Shroff has long been regarded as an actor with little range, but here he goes beyond the ordinary.

Tandon, too, is a revelation. Long renowned for her dancing, she pays attention to her character --- a lonely housewife who has to manage herself, maintain her dignity as well as that of her family. It is also quite a sensuous role and her scenes with Nagarjuna will raise some eyebrows among conservative viewers.

Nagarjuna, for once, is able to let go of his South Indian accent and is able to deliver his lines crisply. The literal translation of his lines in the subtitles will also bring a chuckle or two for bilingual viewers. Agni Varsha

The real disappointment is Amitabh Bachchan, who has a much-hyped appearance as Lord Indra. For one, someone should have realised that the Hindu god is rarely depicted with a beard. The actor does not bother to delve into the role and shows up for the sake of appearance.

Agni Varshawas shot primarily outdoors in Hampi, Karnataka. The landscape vivid and may leave a lasting impression.

Given the subject, it is unlikely Agni Varsha will be a commercial success. But those who enjoy artsy films will likely enjoy it and may even learn lessons about duty and sacrifice.

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