apparently violence is the answer: Ghajini

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?


Anarchivist said…
Hmmm, interesting.

Everything I've seen about Ghajini has stressed its Memento-ness (as does that picture of Aamir with the backward writing, oy!), but other than death and amnesia in general, pretty much none of the elements you've mentioned sound anything like it.

On a related note, I just watched a Usual Suspects knockoff called Chocolate the other night. Most of the film is devoted to a conversational showdown, Anil Vs. Irfan, so I can have NO complaints. Anyway, it goes along, and Irfan's buddies compose a commercial jingle, and Anil is romanced by a pretty screwball comedy reporter, and Suniel Shetty gets femme-fataled, and I started thinking, wait, isn't this supposed to be The Usual Suspects?

Then suddenly it took a turn and became a word-for-word copy, at the point by which it was totally unnecessary to do so. It had already become a totally different thriller!

Now I'm very curious to see Ghajini and find out if something similar happens.

Memento, by the way, is also awfully downbeat, but it's very thought-provoking. I should actually see it again, since the same guy did the new Batman movies...
Hmmm. Haven't seen this yet, but am definitely going as, like Rab Ne, it's another "filmi event of 2008". But wooooe - although my hopes weren't very high, they were still feebly present just because I wanted SOMETHING to be good this year! This sounds like masala without a heart.
JR said…
Haven't seen it, but just said goodbye to someone who was on his way to see it again because it was such a great film. He's going to tell me more about it on Tuesday, so it will be interesting to compare his comments with yours.
Anonymous said…
I had no wish to see Memento, no wish to see the Tamil Ghajini, and no wish to see this.

Thanks for solidifying my position on it! And Anarchivist---Chocolate sounds v.v. interesting! ;-) Maybe I'll watch that instead!
Bollywood said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
NidaMarie said…
Happy New Year, Beth!

I'm sorry you didn't like Ghajini. Sounds like a lot of people were hoping for 2008 to go out with a much needed bang with this one. I haven't seen it yet--I'm planning on going tomorrow--and am convinced it will be better than "Ran Ne Bana De Jodi".

Since Bollywood Fan loved it and you didn't care for it too much, my curiosity is peaked even further!

I usually grab my Bollywood movies when I want to feel good, and my Hollywood movies when I want something like this. My Hindi film list consists of mostly masala or romantic comedies (I am trying to branch out, and will slowly get a broader background). So for me this will be a new experience. I'm willing to give anything Aamir a try, though!
dunkdaft said…
Whatever I wanted to say, theBollywoodFan said it all, in his comments. Even, my friend from South India, had told the same about Asin. After looking at promos only !! She acted *exactly* the same, only language is different. So putting Geet in doubt.

And put the thinking caps off...yaar. Atleast while watching a Hardcore Revenge Saga, you must.

Those smart moments you described, Great. Aamir is awesome in those scenes. OK, agree, Sunita is underdeveloped character. But thankfully, quite short one in length of screenplay. Didn't you liked the 'Kaise Mujhe' moment???? To me, it was a Perfect Moment.

Interesting mention of Munnabhai. Will love to watch if movie is made by such storyline, Ghajini 2 ??!!!!

To me, this is perhaps Perfect Example of a Hindi Entertainer, Full on !!
Anonymous said…
There's a scene in Memento where the following question is raised: What's the point in seeking bloody vengeance if you're unlikely to remember it five minutes later? In some ways, that pause in the middle of the action right at the end -- when Sanjay no longer knows what he's doing or why -- seems to underline that thought. Then it's back to bashing people up. The action is choreographed well, but that moment of silence is what really elevated that entire sequence.

You know what I'd really like to see? A movie that doesn't care about vengeance, or even necessarily supply a love interest, but simply show someone who tries to deal with this ailment on an everyday basis. Show him arriving at ways to organize his life so that he doesn't feel completely disjointed every fifteen minutes. Spend ninety minutes just observing the chap, like Robert Zemeckis did with Tom Hanks in Castaway.

Sometimes it feels like the movies are entirely too obsessed with the notion that something has to happen for the viewers to stay interested. I wish they'd just get out of the way once in a while and just watch a nicely written character get on with his or her life.

Anonymous said…
ugh, the more i read about this movie, the less i want to see it but like the ppcc i will go to see it because otherwise i'm afraid i will not be allowed admittance into heaven. or something like that.
Rum said…
I am soo conflicted like Amrita and ppcc, I want to see it but I'm scared of being dissapointed like Rab Ne. But a gorgeous Aamir with silly tattoos might just pull me into a cinema!
Anonymous said…
Hi Beth, happy holidays and new year! The movie is excellent but people are taking it in a negative tone. Every review that I've read says that "it's a complete-copy of Memento," which makes me mad! It maybe a copy of that film, but why don't we all accept what has been given to us? Why don't we look at the great acting of Aamir (as well as Asin, who has acted first time in a Bollywood movie)?

I think we have to change our views about the film (it has much masala (spices), as the BollywoodFan says). And why don't we all taste that masala instead of capturing its demerits?
Filmi Girl said…
Oh NO!! I had such a different take on the film - although I *did* notice the stealing the paper from the library!

Instead of gleeful violence, the violence combined with Sanjay's forgetfulness seemed to speak (to me) of the pointlessness of violent vengence - that alleyway scene was BRILLIANT!

I loved Asin's cheerful ditz and I even enjoyed Ziah Khan's spunky medical student. I loved how Ziah's interest in Aamir was first romanticized - like love would save him - then she is disillusioned (and I was so scared by Aamir in that elevator in the girls' dorm scene) and finally she manages to see him more clinically.

I guess the difference for me was that I went in expecting a modern masala film - like something from the Vijay era - and that's what I got. I don't know if you've figured this out, but I don't care too much about realism in my films. :D
ajnabi said…
I'm intrigued by the many different points of view I'm reading. That in itself seems to make it worth viewing! I'm sorry it disappointed you, though. :-(
As I read everyone's comments, I'm realizing that maybe why Ghajini didn't work so well for me was because suspension of belief was required but my own ability/willingness to do so wasn't engaged. It's not that I can't suspend disbelief - I just wasn't so moved in this particular. Which would make sense, given what silliness (or even stupidity) I'll put up with for good comedy or romance but just can't be bothered to be patient if the goal is revenge or violence (or sometimes even action sequences, though not always, as I enjoy James Bond, for example). Those don't motivate me as a viewer/thinker.

Anarchavist - I've been thinking for years that I really should see Memento. I'm not even sure how I missed it in the first place. Chocolate sounds intriguing, though!

PPCC - Yes. That is one reason why I went. I have now seen a grand total of 4 films released in 2008 - nothing is coming to this area, and it's hard to schedule all the kerfuffle of 6-hour round-trips to Chicago. But yeah. Masala with no heart. I am not sure Aamir's character (as the lens for the story) post-injury cares about heart whatsoever.

Si - Ooh yes, do share.

Memsaab - Yeah, I can definitely understand that line of thought. :) And agreed re: Chocolate!

theBollywoodFan - Thank you! :) That's an interesting distinciton - that you liked Aamir's performance (if I understand that right from your own post on it) but that it isn't the kind of project that draws you to him as a performer. Indeed, it is very filmi, but so...well, violent, I guess, is what i'm left with. That's very interesting about Salman! I don't think I would have liked that performance at all.

Nida - Thanks! :) Have you had horrendous weather lately in your neck of the midwest? I stayed inside all last week. Blech. I too was drawn to this film mainly for Aamir, whom I always enjoy and am usually impressed by. I think if this had had someone else in it - certainly Salman - I would have skipped it.

Darshit - Good to know re: Asin's performance from the earlier version! :) I think you're right about the thinking cap - I just couldn't do it somehow.

Sadly my Hindi isn't good enough to remember what the "Kaise Mujhe" Moment is! I'm intrigued!

ramsu - YES. That is an excellent question and really has to be discussed in a story like this, and I agree that the moment he stops is so powerful and such a welcome breath of real thought (and analysis, even?).

Your proposed project sounds really interesting. I'd see it! I liked the little touches they made towards that question - the post-its, the maps, the labels on things to show where keys are, etc. (even if they weren't realistic. I'd love to watch this movie with a neurosurgeon).

Veeeeery good point on things having to happen!

Amrita - Exactly.

Rum - His lack of hair - plus the extreme fits of rage, of course - kept me from finding him gorgeous in most of this movie, but he did have a few scrummy moments in the love story arc. And I really, really, really do love to watch him dance. That was awesome.

Bollywood Lover - I don't think it's unfair to focus on a script and to wonder why the filmmakers chose to make the film they did. You might never get an answer, of course.... :) And if we taste a combination of ingredients that, to our individual palette, is icky, then we taste icky.

But I do agree it's important to try to take a film on its own terms (if you can figure out what those are) and to focus more on what was done rather than what could have been done. And very important to go in open-minded and, as you say, take what is given to you - not uncritically, necessarily, and not without thinking, but at least with openness.

Filmi Girl - I KNEW I could count on you for that :) I see what you mean about the pointlessness thing. I just felt that they gave the violence and revenge an AWFUL LOT of attention for it to be judged (by the film or by viewers) as pointless. But yeah, that pause in the alley gives a lot of oomph to the idea of questioning what's going on. I just wish the subsequent action hadn't un-done that.

Asin was totally cute. I too was glad that she didn't fall for him - I kept thinking NOOOOOOOO. If she would have still liked him after he tried to kill her, I might have left the theater.

I don't necessarily need realism, but I do want coherence (most of the time, anyway).

Ajnabi - Yeah! It's always cool to read the discussions.
Filmi Girl said…
If she would have still liked him after he tried to kill her, I might have left the theater.

They already made that movie - it's called Dil!

*Thank you folks, I'm here all night!*

I can see what you're saying about the violence but I found it to be way more dishoom-dishoomy than Oldboy-style realistic violence which might color my opinion. And my belief was suspended enough that I could enjoy watching Aamir mow through those goondas like Amitabh punching his way through the warehouse in Deewar.

Also, I kind of read the ending as a fantasy-sequence - like Sanjay's last thoughts... meaning he had died, as well.

And I only require emotional coherence for my plots - which Ghajini had in spades...
Filmi Girl said…
PS It was a very unsatisfying filmi year and you didn't miss much only seeing 4 movies... :)
Anonymous said…
Ghajini was a disappointment because I was expecting just that little bit extra. You're so right about the different movies in one part.The whole movie felt disjointed and clunky; and I kept getting ideas on how to improve the screenplay.. I do like my masala dhishum dhishum but it failed to absorb me enough to ignore its flaws.. I stop enjoying a movie when I feel the need to start picking at it. Same thing happened with me in Jodha Akbar.. too many little things that could've improved it exponentially for me.

The romance part was sweet. It was engaging and slightly funny. I'll admit I cheered during the train scene when Asin discovers all those army men. That's the good kind of suspension of belief. The rest just didn't gel well together.. Too much was left on the shock value of the story telling and the subsequent revelations but considering we knew most of the story already .. it didn't work much..

His wealth was another thing I had issues with.. If he'd been the average joe the whole thing would've been more easier to accept. Poor man fighting single handedly against mafia don or something is more plausible than rich dude , inspite of all those resources, making things 10 times difficult for himself. I mean come on.. read the damn newspaper and you'll find out that Ghajini's attending that dance thing.. I'm sure he's famous enough to be on telly.. ask your manager if you can't be bothered. stuff like this makes me sad..

I did like Mr. Ghajini though. He was fun to watch esp when he was killing off his enemies.

I'm going back to watch oye lucky lucky oye.. way more interesting than Ghajini..

Temple said…
Hi Beth
I found Ghajini very disappointing. Leaving aside Memento and the degree of similarity, the story was full of holes (is there seriously only one man called Ghajini in town? And what were your staff doing while you were obsessing and brooding eh Aamir? And oh the list goes on and on) and full of points where, as you and others have noted, there were opportunities to add some depth by showing some reflection or introspection. Aamir's acting in the post trauma narrative varied from constipated expression Rainman to over the top action hero almost impossible to stop or kill a la Bond with little to explain or link the two states. The "before" sequence did have a few good moments, and Asin's character became more likeable as the story progressed, and yes their romance was noce (even if he did look too old for her in some close ups). But the songs seemed so disjointed from the narrative that they were just annoying -and I suspect just added so Aamir could prance around and show off his chest.

I don't mind filmi violence and quite like dark themes in my movies, but this was just a bore. I watched this on DVD, fast forwarded through a lot, and it was still around an hour too long.
Anonymous said…
im speechless trying to figure out how my karz and om shanti om loving Beth could be SO out of it when watching ghajini...

was deepika being set afire in om shanti om any less violent?

maybe your disclaimer could include that youre a big shah rukh fan and didnt like most amir movies even before ghajini. that would keep neutrals like me honest, coz im sure so glad i went to see it!!!!!
Bollywood said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
UK - I'd love to read your improved screenplay! I think the idea for the movie has potential - as demonstrated by the wild critical acclaim for Momento, I suppose - but I just didn't find it here.

I loved that bit with the army men too! And yes, I totally agree that there are types of disbelief-suspension!

Good call on tracking down such a public figure as Ghajini seemed to be! Yet another problem with reality - even the reality set up within the film.

I hear OLLO is fab!

Temple - HAHAHA "constipated expression"! Yes! Bulgy eyes! Hulk noises!

FF'ed and STILL too long! Ouch! :) I felt that way about Star Wars 1 and 2.

Asia - Um, no, I don't think the SRK factor has anything to do with it (maybe you're kidding and I can't read your tone?). I do like some Aamir movies - and I don't think there's any reason to set up an Aamir/SRK dichotomy. I don't think judging a movie solely by who is in it is a very useful way to approach cinema, though it can be hard not to sometimes.

For the record, I adore Dil Chahta Hai, I quite like Lagaan, The Rising, Earth, and Taare Zameen Par, I have mixed feelings about Rangeela and Akele Hum Akele Tum, and didn't like Fanaa, Raja Hindustani, or Andaz Apna Apna (though have learned that comedy can be hard to translate and am happy to admit that my lack of knowledge of Hindi renders me largely unqualified to talk about this movie much).

As for OSO, no, that scene is not less violent at all - and I don't like it either. Overall, though, this one has a much higher body count and the violence is presented more vividly.

Anyway, I'm happy you had a good experience with it - enjoying and thinking about movies is what it's all about! :)

BollywoodFan - Interesting! I've never seen any other action films of his, I don't think (unless that melee at the end of Raja Hindustani might count). I do like the range of things that he tries, and I can't think of a single performance of his that I haven't liked or appreciated, even if I wasn't nuts about the surrounding film.
Bollywood said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
This is a remake of 2005 tamil ghajini;This was remade into hindi cuz it was a blockbuster in tamil + telugu . U could see the tamil version but the ending is more cheesy; there u have twin Ghajinis.
There is also a lot of exaggerated sequences of voilence in the end.
I think Ghajini (tamil version)was one of the spate of films made during that time period where each actor wazzz otdoing one another.
U have Vikram doing Aparichitudu - this is also another masala entertainer by Shankar a rip off from Edward norton,richard gere 's Primal Fear where Edwards character was a total lift up from the movie.
U should check out another Surya starrer Kakka kakka ,already remade into telugu now being remade in hindi.that movie was a inspired film from Seven with a looot of masala and voilence bad language .
I think Aamir must have seen the commercial aspect of the movie if u have testossterone kick ass voilence u r garrunteed atleast to get the guys to watch it.:D
He did an action flick before with Mamta Kulkarni called Baazi a long time ago he wanted to remove his Chocolate boy tag but it bombed ;next was Sarforosh it was good but was an average hit .I think he wanted to prove it he could be an action guy.

Popular Posts