Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ghajini: The Best Film of 2008

For the South Koreans out there, today's transferred review is.... GHAJINI! I have a feeling that you guys will like this one a lot. There is a feeling of real inevitable tragedy running through it that should appeal to a country that specializes in making dramas where a sneeze in episode one signals a tragic illness in episode twelve with a heartbreaking death in episode twenty-four.

Here you go!

Ghajini was the best film of the year. From Beth’s review to my shaky memories of Memento, I went in expecting 3 hours of wall-to-wall violence and was overjoyed to realize that Aamir Khan had done what everyone from Om Shanti Om to Tashan had been trying for the last few years: the modern-day masala film. I’m sure we all remember my post-modern masala obsession, all those eye-winking films which try to provide camp versions of real emotions. Ghajini thankfully skips the camp and goes right for emotion and it works!

Ghajini, despite being named after the villain, is really the story of Sanjay Singhania (Aamir Khan). When we meet him, a few minutes into the story, he is violently killing a man in a dingy garage. He is angry, brutal, wild, and very powerful. We don’t know his name or anything about him – just the rage. We follow him home and are shown his external memory system – notes, photos, maps covering the walls. And realize he is a man who lives eternally in the moment. Aamir Khan is amazing in these scenes. He’s always been an intense actor and that trait works very well here. The expressions on his face are incredible as he makes you understand what it must be like to wake up every morning confused and disoriented at your surroundings, check the note in the bathroom which tells you to remove your T-shirt, and see the big tattoo that says Kalpana was killed. Every morning. The overwhelming grief which would never fade…

And here is where Ghajini managed to surprise and delight me. Instead of a long, tiring, slog to the finish line, the film goes masala and we’re taken in a flashback to Sanjay’s romance with Kalpana (Asin).

Let me say, first off, that Asin is a joy on-screen. Her Kalpana was a delight. Bearing in mind that we see her totally through Sanjay’s eyes, she is a pure joy – full of life and totally engaged with the world around her. Sanjay, on the other hand, is like Shammi Kapoor in Junglee - a man obsessed with business. He has no time for anything else, including human emotion. Through a series of coincidences, Sanjay is introduced to Kalpana as “Sachin.” He instantly smitten with her and plays along as “Sachin,” keeping his real identity hidden. Sanjay blooms in Kalpana’s world and in a wonderful song picturization where he sports 6 different looks (“Behka”) we literally see Sanjay experiencing a range of feelings. Everything culminates in a proposal from “Sachin.” If she accepts him, he’ll tell her the truth. If she refuses, he’ll fade from her life.

And just as we’re getting into the romance, we masala back the present and the contrast between the sweet, blossoming man of the flash-back and wild-eyed man in the present is heart-wrenching. And this hits at the real effectiveness of the masala film – for me at least – the change in tone never gives the audience any time to become accustomed to the mood. Like Sanjay waking up every morning with the fresh realization that his love has been taken from him, the masala mood-switch keeps all the emotion fresh. The next part of the film has the added tension of the unresolved love story to make it that much more intense.

Back the present, audience stand-in Sunita (Jiah Khan), a medical student, plays detective and gets herself into trouble with Sanjay, while all the while, Sanjay is coming closer and closer to Ghajini.

I won’t give away the rest of the plot, which continues the flash-back/ flash-forward style of the first half of the movie, but I will discuss the ending, so if you don’t want to know please look away now!

There are so many things about Ghajini to think about. I’ve seen it twice, but I definitely want to go again and I will be buying the DVD.

Here is my little list:
* Aamir Khan is fantastic. I love his overly-intense romantic avatar as seen in Fanaa and a million 1990s films. When Aamir focuses, you feel all of his attention on his leading lady and it’s extremely romantic with just enough of an undertone of danger to make it interesting. His chemistry with Asin was really good and I hope to see the two of them together again in something.

The romance between Sanjay and Asin was really interesting. Not only do we see it all from his point of view but it was very sweet to see that the cold businessman was really the romantic at heart and bubbly Kalpana was actually more practical about romance. In Western films, this dynamic never happens, romance being seen as a totally feminine pursuit, so seeing the masculine romantic character is always a pleasure for me.

* Ghajini himself was AWESOME, if a bit of a MacGuffin. Pradeep Rawat gave a fittingly unironic villainous performance as the gangster Ghajini. (I loved how he delivered his dialogues, even if he earned a few titters from the audience for those “Jindagis.”) Ghajini was interesting because his character-type is so common. How many small-time bare aadmi are there in the annals of popular Hindi film? Yet, this one typical man through this one typical action – killing Kalpana – earns the wrath of one incredible and single-minded man.

* Jiah Khan was in a bit of a thankless role as the audience stand-in. I think she did a great job at playing the curious and fearless medical student – even if her character did steal a newspaper from the archive. Sunita was put in the female-in-distress role, but thankfully managed to think her way out of most of the situations, so I didn’t mind too much. And how scary was the scene in the girls’ dorm?!

* The 15-minute short-term memory seems at first to have nothing to do with the story, except as a cool plot device. Thinking about it, though, I saw it what gave Aamir’s character his emotional power and weakness. The immediacy of the emotion means that he always feels the rage and sorrow as if Kalpana’s death happened 5 minutes ago yet because he can only remember 15 minutes into the past, that rage can become unhinged and purposeless. That ending scene where Aamir is chasing Ghajini’s gang through the back alleys shows this very well. There is this amazing moment where he just stops and looks around very confused as to where he is and what he is doing.

* Ghajini’s fate is pretty obvious from the opening of the film. We know he is going to die. Rather than being an endorsement of violence and killing as the only way to solve a problem, I saw the ending in a different way. Sanjay and Sunita are re-enacting Kalpana’s last moments at the hands of Ghajini. Sanjay is able to do what he could not before and save “Kalpana” – Sunita. And this fixing of the only memory he has and the administration of justice is the point of the drama, not the death of Ghajini. All of the violence, for me, was rather dishoom-dishoomy and it didn’t read too literally for me. Masala films are all metaphor and larger than life and Ghajini is no exception.

Finally the soundtrack is outstanding and I recommend you all go out and buy it immediately! "Guzarish" made my top 10 songs of the year, after all!


Darshit said...

You saw this just now? U shud hve watchd it in any Indian Theatre. It wud be awesum experience how people got really attachd to the story. The kalpana death scene left pin drop silence in hall, it was just so much gripping.

Despite being an Aamirian, I was worried about fate of this movie, but he did carried movie on his own. And yes, Asin too has her moments. Her going ga-ga about Sanjay Singhania, in front of the reporter, is treat to watch every time.

Filmi Girl said...

@Darshit DUDE! I saw this TWICE in the Indian theatres last December.

As I explained before the review, I'm just transferring over old reviews to my new blog. ;P

ajnabi said...

You know what's funny, two of my non-filmi-lovin' friends caught this on IFC and LOVED it. They called me up and were asking, "Hey, do you know that Gazhinnee film?" LOL

coddy said...

Cool! Glad you saw the same way that I and most of the "ordinary" audience saw it! I made it a point to watch it in a single theatre in the commercial hub of the city rather than the antiseptic multiplexes. 1/4th the cost and double the value for money. :)

Like you have rightly implied such movies are meant to be watched with a non-cynical audience which totally buys into (for instance) the business of Sanjay leaving his mobile in the car, and replying to the missed call at totally the wrong time. Or Kalpana selling her long cherished ambassdor for Sanjay's fictionious mom's treatment. And so on. :)

Kaitlyn said...

I watched this, then the Tamil one, then Memento.

Memento was not straight forward and maybe had flash backs or maybe didn't, but it dealt with the question of what do we really remember? How much can we trust memory?

Ghajini let us see Surya/Aamir go wild on people. I liked Surya better, because when he wasn't killing people, he seemed more relaxed, like a puppy. Aamir - constantly angry, except at the end. The Tamil end is much simpler, but the Hindi end brought tears to my ears.

And the best part of the 2 Ghajinis - many things are copied (I will never ever forget the cops at the first scene looking for evidence - in both versions, one is looking under a bureau or something and his light passes over a cockroach or other dead big bug before finding the evidence) but the songs are not - 2 soundtracks, one story! (As opposed to Saathiya and AP. Grr.)




It bugged me that Kalpana never found out who he was.

And in the Tamil one, it's the Ghajini TWINS. why? because. Also, the blood comes out of the faucet when Surya sticks it in the guy - bad-ass!

And one last point - for a Tamil film, the fighting was boring. But in the Hindi Ghajini, it wasn't boring.

The Hindi one also wins because Bekha sounds like my sister's name.

And I love Kalpana's intro song! I realize that walking around singing it is actually appropriate because that's what she would do!

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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