Ghajini

Here are the certainties:

  • Ghajini will make a lot of money. Judging by the opening weekend collections, this is already coming true.
  • Aamir Khan will win the Filmfare award for Best Actor. Years from now, when someone does a retrospective on Aamir’s work, they will remember this movie for the effort he put into it.
  • When they make a list of Aamir’s best movies as part of said retrospective, this movie will not be in it.

But before I get into a discussion of the movie itself, permit me one little rant: Why doesn’t some hunky hero make a virtue of growing a nice round potbelly and baring it for the world and its grandmother-in-law to see? Why is it always muscles and six packs? Can’t we, for once, have Devdas look like the boozy loser he is and spill his beer gut all over celluloid?

Okay, now that my own paunch has had its say, on with the review.

Ghajini, in case you’ve been hiding under a rock and canoodling with myraid species of bacterium all these years, tells the story of a man who suffers from Anterograde Amnesia or short-term memory loss. Which means that, since the time he got this problem, he hasn’t been able to retain any memories. Every fifteen minutes or so, his slate is wiped clean and he has no idea what he was doing. He copes with this situation by relying on tattoos, notes and Polaroid photographs to tell him where he is, who is is talking to (or bashing up, as the case may be) etc. This does not, however, stop him from trying to hunt down his girlfriend’s killer.

Eight years ago, a man named Christpher Nolan (nowadays best known for helming the resurgent Batman frachise) made a brilliant movie called Memento about a man who is on the trail of his girlfriend’s killer while trying to deal with anterograde amnesia. He too relies on tattoos, notes and Polaroids. Everyone who has seen Memento has said: Memento, this ain’t. The makers of Ghajini have said this by way of disclaimer. The critics have said this by way of criticism.

I state it simply as a fact. Ghajini does to deserve to be compared with Memento. Not because they aren’t in the same league, but because, apart from the extraordinary premise that they both share, the two movies have entirely different agendas. It would be unfair to compare them. All I ask of Ghajini is that it be the best thriller it possibly can. Sadly, it does not measure up.

Oh, it has its positives. Aamir Khan looks fantastic and indescribably menacing in the action sequences. There’s a moment right at the end when he snarls at the bad guy — it takes your breath away. In the flashback sequences where you see his romance with Kalpana (Asin), he is in his comfort zone, elevating some fairly pedestrian material simply by the strength of his acting. The man has aged, but his eyes still dance with as much mischief as they did years ago. While Asin doesn’t seem to exude the freshness and charm that got her noticed in the Tamil original, she does admirably well right at the end, just before she gets killed. For five minutes when she plays cat-and-mouse with her killers inside her apartment, her performance is top-notch.

However, these do not compensate enough for its flaws. By far the biggest problem is that the script is not watertight. This sort of premise is like a puzzle to the audience. Given that the promos have told everyone what the movie is about, people are going to walk in wondering how he’s going to do it. You can’t afford to leave loopholes the size of a Buick 8 and expect people not to notice. Here’s the big one: if he can’t remember anything for more than 15 minutes, how can he remember that he has anterograde amnesia? Sure, he does have helpful cues when he’s getting ready in the morning. But once he gets out of the house, there is so much that he seems to do automatically to cope with his condition that you wonder how he remembers to do it in the first place. I don’t necessarily mean to say that they haven’t thought of it, but they certainly haven’t figured out a way to explain it. There are more, but this should give you an idea.

The pacing is another problem. At three hours, the movie is too long for its material. Shots linger where they don’t have to, and there’s much screen time given to Aamir’s look-at-me-I’m-such-a-great-actor moments. The song sequences in the flashback don’t help either. Instead of a breezy interlude with a tragic ending, you have a bloated midsection.

And then there’s the scene where the villain has just introduced himself to the heroine and told her that he just killed a couple of girls who could identify him as the bad guy? Does the woman run? Go to the police or the media? No, she pontificates on the plight of women through the ages, before going back home and getting killed. If Charles Darwin were alive and watching this, he’d say “Good riddance!”

Other problems: Rahman turns in one of the worst scores of his career. Jiah Khan turns in an indifferent performance that befits an indifferently written part. The villain, despite the singular honour of having the movie named after him, is as generic as they come.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: this could’ve been a wonderful movie, if only they had spent a bit more time on the script. The feeling of seeing a good premise and good talent (not to mention twenty three million push-ups from Aamir) gone to waste is almost too much to bear.

I started this review off with a rant about potbellies not getting the screen time they deserve, so let me end with a different sort of rant. Instead of having the news channels inundated with clips of the hero working out like a maniac to get the right physique for a role, can we have clips of the writer working like a maniac to get the right script required for a movie?

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16 thoughts on “Ghajini

  1. So glad to see you back, Ramsu!!!! Paunch and all 😉

    I have no wish to see this, and nothing I’m reading is changing my mine. Ah well. Gives me more time for other fillums!

  2. I don’t think it was actually bad. But the sense of missed opportunities, even within a masala movie framework, was just too much to bear. It could’ve been a wonderful masala movie, but it chose to be a pedestrian one, and that really irks me.

  3. Ramsu: “Here’s the big one: if he can’t remember anything for more than 15 minutes, how can he remember that he has anterograde amnesia?”

    This was exactly my issue with Memento. But Memento was such a mind-bender otherwise that one didn’t get time to dwell on this.

  4. In Memento, the protagonist gives himself a clue by tattooing the line “Remember Sammy Jankiss” on his arm. Sammy Jankiss was a guy with the same problem, we learn from flashbacks. He remembers his life prior to his wife’s murder and his attack, so the name automatically tells him what his problem is. I am not sure it is 100% effective, but it’s a good idea.

    ~r

  5. Ah, Ghajini. I look forward to seeing it, mainly for Aamir, but I still wonder what made him pick this movie. The original is not a great film – it’s a typical action film that tries to be a little more clever than it actually is. Maybe it was the role rather than the story that appealed to him; kind of like how I imagine he went for Fanaa for a chance to play a character with shades of gray in him rather than purely for the story.

    As for your rant, I think Sneha or somebody similarly full-figured-but-attractive Southie actress should show the Sanjay Gandhvi’s of the Hindi industry that no, you don’t have to be size -1 to be beautiful. Similarly I don’t think Ghajini demanded the kind of physicality Aamir’s gone for. Wiry and in shape without huge bulging muscles would’ve been fine.

  6. As a concept for an action movie, Ghajini is quite interesting. It’s not an easy premise to implement, but if it is done well, it could be fantastic from a masala standpoint.

    I think Murugadoss recognized that potential, as did Aamir. As an actor, it would’ve been a lovely challenge to take on such a role and make it work. There were scenes where he totally nailed it. The rest of the time, he was hamstrung by the script and simply did the best he could.

    I agree: he didn’t need to bulk up so much for this role. Most roles don’t need a “look”. In fact, if you overdo it, I think it distracts from the performance. But as a marketing ploy, it works very well. And Aamir’s been playing this card for a while now.

    Personally, I think it was simply the challenge of doing so that interested him. Or maybe it was the implicit competition with SRK 😀

    ~ramsu

  7. Shalu says:

    Ramsu..endha movie thangalai! I am trying to watch it as we speak and cannot get over how crappy the leading female role is. Does the director really want us to leave our brains elsewhere when we watch this movie? And, Aamir..what a shame! After Taare Zameen par, I had so much hope for the next movie..Aamir..shame on you for acting in a movie like this and taking the audience for idiots..

  8. Shalu,

    Two questions:

    1. Are you angry because this is an Aamir Khan movie, or on an absolute scale?

    The former I can sort of understand, although he’s done more than his fair share of crap over the years (take a bow, Dharmesh Darshan, Indra Kumar et al). But on an absolute scale, I’d say the movie is about average in terms of its assumptions about audiences.

    2. Which female role are you referring to? The aspiring model who seems to think she can get away with lecturing a bloodthirsty villain on women’s rights after he’s killed a key witness? Or the medical student who, if her behaviour is any indication, ought to be facing the business end of a neurosurgeon’s tools instead of holding them?

    ~ramsu

  9. Dog Eight My Homework says:

    “Eight years ago,” I read (sorry listened to, over an eight-day period, while driving to work, but not the titular vehicle, thank God), Stephen King’s supernatural thriller From a Buick 8. I’d apparently forgotten all about it (retrograde amnesia, IIRC), but you just brought the memories flooding right back. 🙂

  10. Glad to be of assistance 😀

    I’d heard of the book but not read it. Then I saw a Buick 8 at a car rally here in Mumbai. Damn, that car’s big!

    ~r

  11. Ghajini was the best I saw last year. Though, I don’t like violent movies *that* much, but still I appreciated Ghajini. Maybe because of the great acting by Aamir and Asin (what you think about them?).

    “Ghajini will make a lot of money” Your wish/perception has come true! Have you heard that it has earnt over 200 Crores!?

  12. Glad you enjoyed it, even if I don’t quite share the sentiment. In any case, 200+ crores seems to argue against my assessment 🙂

    I thought Aamir was about as good as the script permitted him to be. There were action scenes where he was quite amazing. The one where he stops just after a fight and wonders where the hell he is, and that feral snarl when he confronts the villain in his den… fantastic stuff.

    Asin, I thought, had starting trouble but eventually grew on you. I enjoyed her performance better in the Tamil version, for some reason.

    ~ramsu

  13. a.willoughby says:

    ah,yes,why shouldn’t an actor have and show his potbelly when needed for a role? And of course,all those village brides should be chosen to look real:prematurely aged,slightly overweight (or really skinny because they haven’t enough to eat).I agree that I would like to see more realistic figures(literally) in films,but I think the problem lies much more with how the women are portrayed,not the men.And yes,Aamir Khan’s muscles are over-the-top and annoying,I find.On a positive note,like reading your reviews,keep it up.

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