Note: I have seen neither Memento nor the Tamil original Ghajini, so I'm looking at the Hindi version on its own.
Ghajini is a cruel, depressing, and disjointed story. Last thing first: the tone of the movie lurched around so frustratingly. Even before the intermission, we leap from shadowy, brutal hand-to-hand death to blathering Asin (who was maybe instructed to act like Kareena Kapoor as Geet in Jab We Met? I don't have any other explanation for her character Kalpana's hyperactive act) to multiple hip-hopping Aamir Khans (and more of this, please - oh how I love his dancing). Jumpy editing and unusual camera angles might help the viewer get to know what it's like inside poor protagonist Sanjay (Aamir Khan)'s damaged brain, but the shifts between tones and components of the story went way beyond that. The nearly constant violence or aggression present in any scene with post-injury Sanjay combined with the sunny, silly romance of his previous self struck me as just awkward. Maybe these two very different feels (and visual styles - pre-injury Sanjay's world is sunny and yellow, and post- it is green and murky and bumpy) were supposed to reinforce for viewers the contrast between the pieces of Sanjay's life, but for me the effect was more often a frustrating jumble than a clever or meaningful juxtaposition. For example, we met Aamir's character in a lengthy attack and murder in a dirty washroom, then a confused ride through the city streets, then his dark and frantic apartment. Then we are introduced to Asin's in a big, chipper song-and-dance number. Huh? Is this to show that villain Ghajini's violence is so extreme that it turns Sanjay into a beast that the person on whose behalf he suffers all of this wouldn't even recognize him? It was like several different movies got chopped up and reshuffled. Sanjay used to be a jovial, normal (if significantly dishonest) person, and then he became an animal - and the two are only reconciled in the throw-away and very cheesy ending. I'd been wondering how the movie would fit chocolate hero arm-flings in the desert with a bug-eyed, grunting killer backed by sledgehammeringly persistent Carmina Burana-esque chanting, and my answer is that it didn't.
And anyway, why did Sanjay's doctor and manager let him go on and on in his life of rage and vengeance, clearly obsessive well beyond a mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy level?
Somebody saw Cape Fear!
If he had somehow disappeared or slipped through the cracks of society, I could understand how his psychosis and one-note life were incubated in his isolation, but he has a staff (but no family, interestingly). No one should let anyone live like that. If he must have eye-for-an-eye revenge, why not hire a bunch of private investigators, since he can't actually remember the puzzle pieces anyway, and let them do the footwork and then hand Ghajini over for his punishment?
Which is not to say the actors didn't do good things with what they had. They did. Aamir Khan is obviously effective as a psychopath, and of course he nails the major requirement of a dual role of making two separate characters - even though they aren't contemporaries in the plot, the interspersion of the parts of the story shows us one Sanjay next to the other, giving the story a sort of twin effect, and now that I think about it, I wonder if getting to do two very different characters was one of the attractions of the story for this actor. Maybe he's too good at the job, as it was very hard to find a link between the two Sanjays or even believe they were the same person, but that's really the writers' and director's fault, isn't it? Pradeep Rawat as Ghajini was interesting and menacing, and he was a creepily calm foil to Sanjay's fits and spasms. Asin's Kalpana really grew on me as the film went on. At first, I sent a silent mental barrage of "shut up, shut up, shut up" at Kalpana on the screen, but once the story shifted from her ridiculous lies to her kind, everyday life, I liked her a lot. Unfortunately, Kalpana really got the short end of the musical stick: she had little to do in "Guzarish" and "Behka" other than stand, strut, and beckon, and the picturizaiton of the musically disjointed "Aye Bachchu" painted her with traits that weren't relevant to the character we got to know through the rest of the film.
Here's where I must mention how the violence against women in this movie really bothered me. I don't know if I can fairly call it misogynistic, but it had some associations of ideas that I won't swallow. Kalpana's murder is disgusting, as is the threatened attack on medical student Sunita, which has the further taint of being committed with a sick joy and trivializing superfluousness. The scandal Kalpana uncovers is of course disturbing too (for those of you who haven't seen the movie, I won't say more); yes, it communicates that Ghajini and his crew are Very, Very Bad, but it seems to be done for a bit of shock value too. (Kaplana also behaves in a very foolish thriller-movie-victim way during part of this sub-story, so I lurched from eye-roll to peeking out from behind my fingers.) Sanjay's death-obsessed revenge motive throughout the film perpetuated an overall sense that rage against other people and violent vigilante action are legitimate responses to personal loss and violations against civilized society. Sanjay's violence is not against a woman, but in his impaired mind it is because of a woman, and I didn't like the combination of Kalpana's memory with Sanjay's spree. What made Kalpana lovable was her affection for other people and willingness to go out of her way to help and protect them. I don't think Kalpana would have wanted anything to do with the man Sanjay became, and I wish the writers had discussed this in some way, even if just shoved in as a voiceover of Sanjay's thoughts and memories at the end. Sanjay was all but a blank slate, why was he obsessed only with the evil associated with Kalpana's life? Because that would be a different movie, I guess. If Sanjay lived by Kalpana's life, it'd be Munna Bhai. But how dismal this movie was.
The smartest moment of the whole thing shows Sanjay, mid-chase of Ghajini and his henchmen, suddenly stop and look at the bodies he's knocked to the ground. We've been told repeatedly that his memory can only hold information for fifteen minutes, and the clock has just run out, leaving him totally confused about what he's done and what's going on. He just stands there breathing hard and looking around, and we all sit in silence looking with him at the results of his vengeance. It's brilliant. But then the chase continues, undoing and forgetting any intelligent analysis or synthesis that Sanjay has made (and encouraging viewers to forget theirs too, I think - it's like the film wants us to go "Oh my god, is all this violence worth it?" and then go "Hell yeah!"), and there's no more conversation offered about what happens when you live your life like he does.
One more complaint: the characterization of Sunita annoyed me (but Jiah Khan's performance was fine for what she had to work with). What kind of medical student brings patient files to a stranger, steals a newspaper from the research archives (feel my museum staff/librarian's wrath! feel it!), and goes "ew" at the sight of a few beaten-up bad guys in an alley? Her character gave us a way in to Sanjay's medical condition, but I think a conversation between his doctor and manager, or between his manager and any number of people he might encounter on a given day (the bus driver who knew him, for example), could have done the same thing. Sunita was totally unnecessary - and she didn't even provide a whole item number.*
Overall, Ghajini was not a successful film for me. It had its moments - adorable schoolchildren wanting to visit a museum, people using a library, "Behka," Sanjay's quick and heartfelt softening toward Kalpana, solving the mystery of what happened to Kalpana and why, the inclusion of my new favorite Useful and Comforting Mom-Like Figure of Authority Vibha Chhibber as the most helpful police officer - but they didn't cohere. I almost pulled out my mental checklist of recommended masala elements because so many of them seemed to be present, but they sure weren't combined in the right proportions or methods for my taste.
And oh, the sleeves. Rather more Salman than Aamir, no?
Pictures from the official site.
Aamir is pumped. Got it. We already knew that from the camera's and Sanjay's own lingering gazes over his flawlessly chiseled and inked torso in the morning bathroom scene. Not to belittle the work that went into said look - about which you can learn on the official website's videos. Me, I'm happy with the hip-hop fedoras.
* And that present she gives Sanjay at the end? Where did she get that?