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?