Directed by: A.R Murugadoss
Starring: Aamir Khan, Asin, Jiah Khan
***WARNING: Contains plot spoilers, read only after you’ve seen the film if you are of that disposition!!!!!!*******
“Aaaaaaaamirrrrrrrr!!!!” is the voice I kept hearing in my head when I finally got round to seeing
Ghajini and was waiting for the film to start (being uncharacteristically early – could this be my thing for 2009? Happy New Year by the way, y’all!) Whose voice you ask? It was erm, Salman Khan. Rewind back to July 2008 when Aamir and Imran Khan went on Dus Ka Dum to promote Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na. Every time Aamir took a calculated risk (about 65% of the programme then) Salman would shout: “AAAAAMIIRRRRRRRRRRR!”
Anyway, I have to be honest, I missed the boat with Ghajini. I had planned to go and see it straight away but the holiday season teamed with intervals of work and social obligations meant I kept having to reschedule and even though I had the beginnings of a cold, I knew it was now or never. To say I was expecting a lot is an understatement – I wanted to see how Aamir would follow up Taare Zameen Par and also after the high of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, I wanted another hit to sustain that feel good factor. As I watched the trailer for Chandani Chowk To China, don’t ask how but I knew Ghajini would be good. I don’t know how I knew – I just did.
Ghajini opens with Sunita (Jiah Khan), a medical student who becomes interested in a case study involving a man named Sanjay Sanghania (Aamir Khan). Sanjay has short term memory loss which means he cannot remember anything for longer than 15 minutes (a bit like me on a Monday morning then!) and as a result, has tattoed some rather enigmatic messages on his body as well as documenting everything in his life with polaroid pictures and handwritten reminders. How did Sanjay get in this position? After committing a murder, an ambitious policeman gets into Sanjay’s house and finds his diary. Through flashback, we learn Sanjay was once the chairman of a mobile company and through coincidence (what else?) he meets the bubbly Kalpana (Asin) whom he gradually falls in love with and proposes to on New Years Eve. The diary stops at NYE and as the first half draws to a close with the police officer being killed in a thrilling chase sequence, we are left with many questions that need answers: Does Kalpana say yes? How did Sanjay become the way he did? Is this film going be fantastic or mediocre? Would the woman in front of me rustling her popcorn bag get a refill or shut the devil up? Apart from the last one, the stage is set for an explosive second half…
Now, a few points. Ghajini is not a remake of Memento. Hmmm – I haven’t seen Memento but I know there were no songs in that movie and from what I hear, it doesn’t have that romantic element to it. Secondly, there is perhaps no one else but Aamir who could do this role. I think the premise would have gotten out of hand had any other actor-director tried it (in Bollywood at least) so good on them for trying something risky. However, Ghajini does not get a clean bill of health. The film could easily be trimmed down by a good 45 mins, including losing some songs and some of the action sequences. The first half was bum numbingly too long. Secondly, whilst we are to expect the usual suspension of belief with any film, Ghajini does get a bit silly at times – for instance, action sequences where people wait their turn to attack our hero, or college show/charity fundraiser which looks like it was made on a budget that could no doubt fund a film department at the said college (I am referring to the Latoo song here BTW). Also, there is some silliness in the action sequences where one punch breaks every bone in the body yet when our hero gets stabbed, it just takes a little bit of cheerleading to get him back to full health and make sure justice is served on schedule. Minor points I know, but seriously, the last place we want to see these 90’s style touches is in an Aamir film.
Having said that though, Ghajini looks and feels different from many a film released these days, with the Bollywood gloss used sparingly. In fact, to me, this felt more like a Tamil film, (a view taken from the few Tamil films I have seen – and bloody good they are too). Whether it was the grittiness or the excellent cinematography (check out the way the camera is placed in unusual angles and degrees of close up – done in a subtle way that enhances the action and so effortless one almost misses it). I also liked the treatment of a theme that has been done to death in Bollywood – the revenge by numbers story. The way the film takes the familiar and makes two different stories out of it – one is a dark thriller (Sanjay’s revenge) and a social commentary (Sanjay and Kalpana’s love story and how they come into contact with Ghajini). At times, it does feel like you are watching two films, but I am certain a repeat viewing will prove the two work cohesively together. I also liked that whilst figuring out Sanjay’s story, we know nothing about Ghajini himself except that he is pure evil. We don’t get any insight into why he behaves so brutally and in contrast to the humanity we see in Sanjay, there is anything but empathy in Ghajini’s character.
A paragraph must be given to the music which is simply superb. A.R Rehman finishes 2008 with an amazing album that has grown on me faster than a speeding bullet. Like I said, the Latoo and Bekha numbers, fantastic as they are, could easily be left out of the screenplay to give the film more pace. As tracks to listen to, they rock. I loved the picturisation of Guzarish (same location was used in Drona as the four other people who saw the film will testify to) and the Kaise Mujhe song is sooooooo gorgeous, if I ever get married, that is going in the mix on that wedding tape somewhere. Style wise, Aamir looked good in Van Hausen (product placement watchers also note: Apple, Nokia and Polaroid all racking up healthy screen times) and Asin and Jiah’s wardrobes were suitably real rather than filmi. Foot fetish types will also note a soft porn foot sequence which shows Aamir to have very manicured but hairy feet. God knows why I picked up on this but in that new flat scene, I couldn’t help but notice his footprint was larger than his actual foot. The camera does add ten pounds…
Performance wise, everyone turns in a decent job. I thought Asin was very good, very natural and spontaneous and even at times like a young Sridevi (a compliment I would never give freely seeing how I used to worship Sridevi as I grew up!). She even manages to match Aamir at times, something that has not been done since Aamir’s pairings with Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawala. Though Asin may have done the same role in the Tamil version of Ghajini, I felt she made the role feel fresh and watchable. I did fear she was going to irritate me at first but slowly, like Sanjay, we the audience fall for the charms of the young lass. Sadly, I did find Jiah Khan and her toned midriff quite irritating, only because she looked like she had stumbled onto the wrong film set and though her Hindi diction was miles better than Katrina Kaif’s, her role could have been played by any young starlet. I did feel bad when her Latoo number got chopped though and I have to say, when she is with Aamir, her performance isn’t that bad….but for now, her next role will determine her competence as an actress – this round goes to Asin.
Tinu Anand was very good as the ad film director as was Vibbha Chibbar as the cop who Sanjay kills. I also thought Pradeep Rawat was suitably menacing as Ghajini, hitting the right notes of arrogance, fear and malice with apparent ease. Much of the supporting cast is built of stock characters but to their credit, all perform well
But as we always knew would be, the star of the show is Aamir Khan. Showing dedication in cultivating an amazing body and very unique look for this role, Aamir tops this off with a competent performance. He is quietly confident as Sanjay, cultivated and calm, and every bit the typical Hindi film hero. But as his alter ego, he is terrifying, animalistic and as scared and in the dark about his circumstances as the audience. Note the scenes where he forgets everything or when he learns from Sunita the horrific circumstances which made him like this. Any other actor would have gone overboard and at first, it feels like Aamir does. But once we get used to the character and understand him, we are able to appreciate the nuances in Aamir’s performance and recognise this guy is really miles ahead of the pack. I was thinking who else could do this role and the closest I could think of was either Hritihk or Sunny Deol but even those two would not have come close to Aamir. Interestingly, we see Aamir do the Hrithik thing in Bekha which the film could have done without but again, the fact he pulls it off just shows what an amazing actor he is.
Ghajini is an entertaining film. It is clear why it has worked in India across all markets – it has something for everyone. Not only that, it has Aamir Khan on form. It takes star quality, an x factor if you will to take an average concept and take it to the top. But Aamir makes it seem so effortless it is no wonder every film he does is an event film in its own right. While this film isn’t a groundbreaking one in every sense, it certainly is a very watchable one. All in all, a solid ending for Bollywood for 2008, much like that last piece of coursework or final exam that pushes an average year into the scoring zone. Whatever you think of it, I guarantee the film will leave you saying on thing over and over: