Thursday, December 25, 2008


Cast: Aamir Khan, Asin, Jiah Khan
Director: A.R. Murugadoss
Runtime: 180 min. (Citation needed)
Rating: ****
Genre: Action, Thriller

        There was once a time when a lanky guy called Vijay, with the top button of his shirt ripped open to betray a rather beast-haired chest, and he would beat up scores of guys by locking them in a warehouse and we would applaud. Not anymore I guess. Today, fulfilling the promise of a good actor isn’t appealing enough. If Brando were alive today he might have very well been termed a hack because for all my money he never had a six-pack. See, two things. One that rhymed, and two I’m in a sense old school. Clint Eastwood is the man. Amitabh Bachchan is, or was the man. Even Arnie was the coolest not bare-chested but in a leather jacket. The very sight of a bulky shaven body betrays a sense of, what can I say, disguise. A sense of desperate claim to manhood. But then, never mind. To each his own.
        I hope better sense prevails and comparisons to Nolan’s Memento are avoided, and ignored. We have all struggled with that film and its innate tragedy. To me personally, it has haunted me. The predicament itself is such, and I believe we all deserve a bit of enjoyment of it now. You know, the kind where we don’t feel helpless, for we all are handicapped, as viewers, as people, as citizens. I don’t know about you, but the idea of villains being bashed up mercilessly appeals to me from time to time. The idea of being charmed by the love of an angel fascinates me too, and immensely so. Pauline Kael famously clubbed films into two types – art and trash. Both can be equally good mind you, and Ghajini is everything I sought from the immensely engrossing trash it is. There is entertainment, there is charm and most of all there is Asin.
        So, don’t pay too much attention of the plot, which is basically an old fashioned revenge drama (Mahesh Bhatt’s Criminal with its kidney premise comes to mind) with a new handicap for the hero (Amitabh Bachchan’s Majboor with its brain tumor thing comes to mind). When Mark Twain ripped apart James Fennimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans in a hilarious essay, he said –
It is a restful chapter in any book of Cooper's when somebody doesn't step on a dry twig and alarm all the reds and whites for two hundred yards around. Every time a Cooper person is in peril, and absolute silence is worth four dollars a minute, he is sure to step on a dry twig. There may be a hundred handier things to step on, but that wouldn't satisfy Cooper. Cooper requires him to turn out and find a dry twig; and if he can't do it, go and borrow one. In fact the Leather Stocking Series ought to have been called the Broken Twig Series.
That is the kind of easy minded 70s escapism that could be attributed to Ghajini. But then, this is hardly literature. This is trash, dear reader and trash with quite a lot of fun. When needed even the army make an appearance out of nowhere. The twigs, of course, have been replaced by mobiles, and a character forgets them just when he shouldn’t, and a phone rings aloud just when it shouldn’t. There’s another twig too, and it moves around in the form of young Jiah Khan, who feels too feeble to hardly stay in a picture, leave alone cutting a pretty one. Of course, it doesn’t help matters that she is a god-awful actress, so terrible that her character’s name has fled me and it hasn’t even been an hour since the screening ended. I believe we ought to forgive, and more importantly forget.
        Now, young Jiah is a twig in another, narrative sense too. As in, performing the exclusive services of providing expositions and resolutions. She is no more than a mere device to resolve the plot, often making calls at crucial junctures so that the film would move forward. Take for instance a crucial sequence at the end of the film, where Sanjay Singhania (Aamir Khan) is lying in the hospital, confused and lost. His life-saving tattoos and clues and pictures have been robbed of him. Just in case you do not have prior knowledge about the premise we’re dealing with here, Sanjay suffers from antergorade memory disorder (AMD) wherein he has a memory span of 15 minutes, after which is memory gets erased, and he has to start all over again (Those who have watched Memento, might realize here that Sanjay doesn’t remember the past either, unlike Leonard Shelby. A rather interesting spin if you ask me). The film in fact shows a placard upfront just in case you are caught off-guard, but then removes it quite early. Never mind, because if you missed it, the film opens with a theory class where characters speak in arbitrarily chosen wooden words, whose sole purpose to exist is to convey information to us.
        So, the Jiah Khan character walks in, and as stipulated under her contract, she provides every bit of information to Sanjay so that he can claim revenge on his man. Now see, if not for anything, that information is at least worth two hours (considering the length of the film that preceded it), and it is a whole lot for the guy to process and store. But he does, and he thunders to the evil man’s den roaring like a lion. If the film here suffers a temporary memory loss, and forgets its hero’s condition, I think we should cut the film some slack. This is slam-bang Sir, not a thoughtful logical exercise. When I claim Tamil cinema is the best in entertainment we have, this is what you’ve been missing. Not any hint of cynicism or self parody, but escapist entertainment with a lot of heart.
        Of course, it would be cruel of me to imply that the film is dumb, and unaware. Not in the least, for this is a film that caters to everyone amongst us, including the lowest commonest denominator, not because it doesn’t know better, but because it chooses to. Any doubts to the contrary ought to be laid to rest by the opening few moments, which involve a rather robotic Sanjay beating up some guy. Maybe cyborg-ish is a good word for the note the actor is gunning for. And you got to appreciate the humor of the plumber job, and I believe he forgets to open the tap just to check if his installation is correct. What follows it though is quite a scene, where Sanjay walks into his room and puts his stuff neatly into their proper places courtesy the notes and sleeps and gets up and walks into the bathroom clueless and sees the note of “open your shirt” and opens it and sees all his tattoos and burns in rage. Absolute monstrous rage. I believe the Jonathan Nolan short story had a similar scene. Choosing to include it in the film alone is a wonderful decision, for no amount of words could explain the psychological and emotional state of the person at hand. The walls are black, the atmosphere is dark. Yes, I would have had edited it differently, in a more composed and sedate fashion, with calm frames scanning the hero for longer moments. And then jumping the gun on the edits to gain maximum impact. The film chooses to do it differently, in a mish-mash of skewed camera angles and fast forward jerks, but it still gets the point across with remarkable impact. Sanjay is boiling in despair, and decides to vent his ire on the poor punching bag. I was with him till here, but for some reason he chooses to get on the tread mill. I am not too sure I would have done that, but never mind.
        And if you think the film cannot be subtle, you might be wrong again. There is a rather brilliant moment where the Jiah Khan character bumps into Sanjay, and courtesy her curiosity, sits down with him to understand his condition. Just in case you’re wondering, she is a medical student. Maybe she seeks to feel his state of mind, and she throws at him questions. He replies, and she dutifully jots down, pay attention, jots down everything he says. You got to appreciate the irony at hand here, for what is the difference between them anyway. I mean, one notes down on his body, and the other (we) notes down on her notepad. Memory, as Lenny said, is unreliable. There’re such motifs strewn all over the place. People note addresses on laptops, and note phone numbers. In the final analysis, you know, it is just a matter of time. Speaking of which, the mobile alarm is asked to be of service too.
        There’s quite an action sequence at the end, cheerful in its gratuitous violence and greatly enjoyable all the same, where the bad guys receive a bashing of their lifetime. Sanjay walks along a narrow path flanked by houses, and I couldn’t help but notice and admire the claustrophobic feel of the space. The way it mirrored the road to Ghajini, one that was built and broken and built and broken in Sanjay’s mind. The set is constructed as if it was a labyrinth, a puzzle, and I cannot believe it is a coincidence. The bad guys jumping on him might be from the present, but what is past present and future for Sanjay. They might as well be the same guys he has already killed, and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference to him. It is a fascinating visual show, and while you’re having a great time smashing folks to pulp, please do keep an eye on the images the filmmaker is throwing at you. And, if possible keep an eye on the length of the sequence, and be kind enough to supply me the figure. I hope it is what I expect. Speaking of which, there’s a game based on the film coming up too.

        And then, there’s Asin. What transcendent beauty, what immense grace. What a wonder of nature. I remember watching the Tamil original and falling in love with her, and I maybe in love all over again. Some experts might complain about her acting. Yeah, yeah, she often comes across wooden in the film’s dramatic moments. But I say, the hell with her acting, these guys have just got their priorities all wrong. Who wants acting when a mere smile and a glance can leave you in a trance? Who wouldn’t fall in love with her, who wouldn’t be dizzy by her mere presence? Who wouldn’t go insanely mad at her loss? If it were me, I would have worn a cowl and cape and finished all criminals and if it proved too expensive a proposition, I would have scarred my face and put war paint all over it and bleached my hair and burn the world.
        The film’s best moments are hers, and as long as she is on screen, the film is a joy. It is silly, yes, but there’s just so much overflow of charm and romance that it is impossible to get infected. Songs come arbitrarily and you would be a fool to complain, for she is floating across most of them. And all I could muster was awe. She uses a terrible dialog that speaks of her magic that have the power of changing governments, but you smile all the same. She helps a few kids glide past an obstacle, and that generosity of hers feels straight from almighty, and I clapped in my seat. Yes, some of the scenes involving her and Aamir Khan are terribly phony from both ends, and it might be a great coincidence that one of them actually involves a phone call, where he calls her from London and asks her of her well being. I actually don’t care, you know, and I believe if you seek great performances you got to look elsewhere. And believe me, these ones here get the job done.
        See, the film has two tones, primarily. One which the film uses to begin itself with, with Sanjay locked in the grim darkness of his revenge, where the word Ghajini is driving him, and I believe that is the inferior one. The other, and obviously the superior one is where the film ends up locking Sanjay in. That might as well be heaven, where he is locked with the divine Asin, and love is guiding him. Who wouldn’t want to forget everything and be locked in her presence, forever?

Note: The locations in the song titled “Guzarish” seem to be the same one from The Cell, and even probably The Fall. The latter, dear reader is a masterpiece, from Tarsem. And so is Asin, from God.


Gaurang said...

loved the review yaar!!!! I'm going again today for ghajini!!

srikanth said...

Oh man... Have a lot to catch up in the blog.

Fine one Satish, felt like having a conversation.

Sadanand Renapurkar said...

I really questioned the sensibilities of Berardinelli when he wrote the The Fall was nothing more than an eye candy. His one argument that will always go against him. At least in my books. Beautiful images were merely a part of the spectacle for me. It was gem of a film. I could still see Alexandria sitting there and crying
"why are you killing them?"
Her infectious innocence and palpable fear, his overwhelming guilt and one memorable picture that becomes a part of you.

!TEQ-uila Del Zapata said...

I was quite angry with those 4 stars. movie deserves one and a half.
But this article justifies you rating, sometimes I wonder how u give stars? but your "general theory of relative staring" is becoming more and more apparent to me.
I have huge respect for south indian cinema, but this was more like typical mindless south indian cinema. Shall I call it "Masala"(It wont be wrong)
Amir khan being too intelligent at times have lost the very purpose of being intelligent, he is just getting carried away.
I wont say the word "memento" here, as it is futile in current context.
I like all those skewed camera angles and all those goons getting bashed. One punch and they rotate 3 and half turn in air and fall with a thud which can knock you off from your chair.(Gawd!)
I must say south indian movies are much better at least in use of audio and camera techniques, developed by all those cinema maestros, as compared to hindi cinema.
Asin is no doubt beautiful, bubbly acting, but overdone immensely(Can't it be subtle???)and Amir keeps standing like some typical dumb Indian romantic actor, why does his tongue roll back to his stomach? why?
Entire portion of all that vanilla, life-is-so-good part of movie was typically embarrassing. Why can't hindi cinema generate one pure movie.
What has happened to all those creative mind, why dont we have Rishi da or Vimal Roy anymore. Even Shyam Benegal has puked this time.
I thought Lagasn is a great movie but when I saw no man's land, I thought lagaan is nothing but trash, pure commercial cinema. Bosnia is such a small country with feeble resources as compared to bollywood and they had made an awesome movie. Small countries are making far better cinema than these two giants hollywood and so-called bollywood. I am so bloody disappointed, wasted my time and energy, huh!

man in the iron mask said...

First things first. Let me explain my rating system.

For one, I do not pay much attention to it, other than to say how recommended it is. A rating system is merely a verdict, if a film is good or bad. Or maybe one could extend it to saying how good or bad it is. But by no means do ratings do justice to a film.

For one, I believe a film can never be quantified. Say if I award 41/2 stars to Pineapple Express and 5 stars to Tropic Thunder, it is essentially ridiculous quantification I’m talking about. How can one calibrate a movie?

I, actually give the rating merely as a spontaneous reaction, and then forget about it. A critic who actually pays too much attention to a rating is not one from the school of film appreciation I hail from. For me, reviews aren’t verdicts, they’re descriptions. Of what the film is. Of how the film is. Of what one ought to expect walking into it. I gave Phoonk 3 stars because being a bad film isn’t necessarily equivalent to a bad time at the movies. One can expect great fun in watching a bad film, and that is what I seek through my reviews. Not a justification for my rating, but a description and if the film deserves it, analysis.

I believe Ghajini is trash, and when I walked into it, I don’t expect an insightful experience. What I expect is mindless fun, with a dash of heart (and the film’s promos make it amply clear). And I never understand why do expectations sky rocket when there’s an Aamir Khan film? Indian audiences, desperate to find a genius, have elevated him to a status he doesn’t really deserve. See, Aamir Khan is merely a good actor and certainly not a great one. Taare Zameen par revealed his middlebrow sensibilities, and his shameless pandering of melodrama. But then, that is a subject of a different essay which I would like to address soon.

The Ancient Mariner said...

As I write this comment, I am yet to read your full review. But my dear old room mate sir, I beg to disagree on the rating itself. Ghajini can't by any means deserve a 4 star on your yardstick. That I am saying, after knowing and inheriting a bit of love for movie (for which you can claim the credit)from yourself. ;-)

I liked Asin though! And I agree, she's from heaven. The girl i cud die for, the girl i cud kill for.