I watched the remake 3 years ago and it had stuck to me. I have always wanted to watch the original mainly because it had Big B in it. I searched for the poster of the original and saw that Amitabh Bachchan was clean-shaven in that film and I have always drooled over a clean-shaven Big B of the earlier ventures like Don, Do Aur Do Paanch and Chupke Chupke. It made him taller and more attractive. Let's see who fares better - The tall "angry young man" or the sexy charming hunk.
The storyline is simple and the same: A righteous school teacher (the proverbial 'masterji') is killed by a don and the son swears revenge. A pretty bland and a well-beaten concept in Indian cinema. The remake faithfully adheres to the original story. However, it does make a few changes in the screenplay and the plot. Kancha (Sanjay Dutt) is more local and a "relatable devil". He often says, "Tum kya lekar aaye the, kya lekar jaaoge" (What did you bring and what will you take with you) at different points of the film. His philosophy is used to add more shades of darkness to his character. He even wears only black throughout this film. He has a father. There is an additional character called Rauf Lala (the late Rishi Kapoor) who sells women. Nathu (played by Tinnu Anand) is done away with. The sister is younger and the man Vijay Chauhan himself is way less fierce. The screenplay is made more taut and fast-paced. The mystery element makes the film appear to be a faster one though the run time is almost the same as the original. The film is produced by the same production house (Dharma Productions).
I am not going into the details of the plot of the films. This is going to be only a comparison of what is better.
In the original, every character has a well-defined arc (except for the henchmen of Kancha Seth). The dialogues are hard-hitting (though some call it a bit stagey) and the emotions are brought out well by acting. Amitabh Bachchan as Vijay (one of the most screen names he had in those times) delivers compelling performance of a man seething with vengeful anger. At no point does he question his ways to the end, despite the others questioning him. Danny Denzongpa as Kancha Cheena is eerie and ominous throughout. His ways are dubious and he is one villain who can't be taken down easily. The women characters of Rohini Hattangadi (Vijay's mother), Madhavi (Vijay's love interest) and Neelam Kothari (Siksha, Vijay's sister) are all well enacted. However, the scope of Mary Mathew (Madhavi) and Siksha is underdeveloped. Mithun Chakraborthy as Krishnan Iyer M.A. is very impressive and wins our heart. Tinnu Anand as Nathu is one of my favourites as a loyal son of the soil with no powers. This film slowly builds up to a violent climax which makes it an endearing watch. Big B's experimentation with his voice and Mithun Chakraborty's impersonation of a Tamilian, though good, were jarring at times and drowned the dialogues. Vikram Gokhale as Gaitonde is honest and earnest. His valour and courage rub off on us as well. The pace of the film was slow and had some unnecessary songs none of which stick. The cinematography and the dialogues along with stellar performances have given this film cult status.
Now let's take a look at the remake. Hrithik Roshan as Vijay is not even a far second to Big B. Trying to underplay the anger of the protagonist, he doesn't show anger at all. In fact, he is seen crying most of the times than being angry. The late Rishi Kapoor is impressive as Rauf Lala but his character has no substance in the film. The film definitely has got the sentiments right with the local prostitutes and transgenders rooting for the hero. There are the regular moments of no-logic Karan Johar sequences in this too. As an example, take the whole song sequence (Gun Gun Guna re, though an exceptional treat visually and aurally) where everybody celebrates the birthday of Vijay's sister without even knowing her. Sanjay Dutt as Kancha is scary. He terrorizes the audiences with his philosophical dialogues and his devilish deeds. His introduction scene itself gives the creeps with the completely hairless look and sets the stage for his ruthless evil. The Surya character is wasted on an able artist like Pankaj Tripathi, though he shines even in that role. The late Om Puri is earnest as Gaitonde. The characters of Kaali (Priyanka) and Suhasini (Zarina Wahab) had a lot of scope but were not written well. There are not many scenes in the remake that stand out (except for the final showdown) unlike the original. The scenes where Vijay takes Mary to a hotel, the one where Vijay warns Gaitonde and the most important scene where there is an emotional face-off between the mother and son are all lost in translation. What we get is a hangry Vijay storming out of the house with a plate full of food.
What do stand out in the remake are the songs and the background score. The lack of emotions in dialogues, screenplay and acting are well covered up by the Ajay-Atul duo with their violin heavy orchestrations. Each song is a potential earworm. My favourites are O Saiyan and Abhu Mujhme Kahin. These two songs brilliantly bring out the necessary emotions in the films - happiness with a melancholic undertone. But that's about it.
Remakes have always been a tricky business in Indian cinema. Some originals are too good that they are better left untouched. Some get better in the remake and there is this one more category that falls somewhere in between - the remake does well in parts but can't surpass the original completely. This is exactly where this remake falls into. It would be safe to say that it is a well-intended homage to the original than a remake.