Friday, December 26, 2008

Ghajini - Forget it!

Despite being one of the finest star-actors of Hindi filmdom, Aamir Khan remains an enigma to me. On the one hand he successfully projects a carefully crafted image of an intelligent actor who, in his quest for perfection, would go through countless discussions and deliberations before taking on a film. Yet, from time to time, he goes on to do films with the dumbest of scripts ridden with countless loopholes. After the emotionally engaging Tare Zameen Par last year, he went on for a Fanaa encore by agreeing to do Ghajini this year. But unlike Fanaa, which tried to take itself too seriously and eventually turned out into a film that was unsure of the tone it should take – mushy mish-mash or a tantalizing terrorist tale, Ghajini has no pretensions. There is no effort to make it look like anything but a hardcore masala flick from the 80s, a time when masala and brainless were found next to each other in the lexicon of Hindi films. Therein lies the root cause of my disappointment with Ghajini.

A. Murugadoss's Ghajini is based on an interesting premise, borrowed unquestionably from Christopher Nolan's Memento (is there anyone who would believe the disclaimer at the beginning of the movie?). A man must avenge his girlfriend's murder, only the event has left him with anterograde amnesia, where he is incapable to creating any new memories for more than 15 minutes. Just imagine the delicious possibilities this premise opens up. How does the protagonist first discover his problem, how does he first chance upon the idea of preserving his memories by using a Polaroid camera and body tattoos, how does the metamorphosis from a prim and proper corporate type to a maniacal killing machine take shape? Wonderful ideas to explore, but for writer-director Murugadoss these are inconsequential, even redundant questions. He is undeniably from the old-school that consciously avoids complexity in a quintessential masala flick? But Aamir Khan, the perfectionist? How can one ignore his association with the film and his inability to impart the film with even a modicum of intelligence that one expects in a film he chooses to associate with. The problem probably lies with me – much like the protagonist of Ghajini I too suffered a short-term memory loss and forgot completely that Aamir Khan is not so perfect after all. He did Fanaa not very long back. Didn't he?

My main problem with Ghajini is with the writing. The screenplay is full of glaring loopholes and scant regard for the audience's intelligence. After an engaging first 15 minutes, which boasts of Aamir Khan displaying in equal measure his newly sculpted (possibly steroid-aided) eight-pack body and one of his best acting demonstrations ever, the story takes off to an elongated romantic flashback, which though enjoyable, is quite ridiculously scripted. Asin as the protagonist's love interest lends an infectious charm to the flashback, but only after the viewer has got accustomed to her animated style, which can be a bit irritating to start with.

In fact, the film takes the concept of suspension of disbelief to unimaginable extremes. You're made to believe that hardly anyone knows what the brightest corporate whiz-kid in town looks like. Or, that the police don't investigate what words like "Find Ghajini" or "Kalpana Was Killed" tattooed on the 'killer's' body mean. On the contrary, they let him off believing the ridiculous explanation the villain gives them for his cellphone number being tattooed on his body. Even the crux of the film, the reason why the heroine is killed, lacks the punch necessary to make the whole plot of the film believable.

Ghajini is one of the rare films in the history of Hindi cinema, which are named after the villain. Is it wrong to expect the role of the villain in a film named after him to be meaty? But Murugadoss' Ghajini seems like Ajit's sidekick from a 70s film. It seems that no effort went into writing his character, which is as uni-dimensional as can possibly be. Most importantly, where's the menace? It just doesn't justify why the film is called Ghajini and not like the Dharam paaji films of yore – Main Intaqam Loonga and the likes.

It isn't that the film is a lost case in its entirety. Despite all its flaws (including the hammering background score and some gimmicky editing of fight sequences), one must grant it to the director for having created a film that moves at pace fast enough for the viewer to ignore the flaws. Not even once during the 180 minutes plus duration of this film did I feel bored. If I'm disappointed it's only because I expected a much more cerebral fare from an Aamir Khan film. Had it been any other actor, the flaws would not have grated so much.

Talking of Aamir the actor, he is the single most important reason why I found the film watchable. His tour de force performance saves this film from degenerating into a routine masala potboiler. He is best when he doesn't have any dialogue to mouth and conveys his helplessness, aguish and rage through his eyes. Just Aamir Khan's performance in the first 15 minutes and the climax is enough for me to justify the price I paid for the tickets. But I still feel a bit let down because I foolishly expected much more from an Aamir Khan film.