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Death of an actor…

ghajini_hindiOne of the best publicity campaigns in the history of Indian cinema was designed for Ghajini. The anticipation for this film was like none other. Internet movie portals had a glorious December with page-views increasing ten folds each time they mentioned the word Ghajini. It was as if there was something magical about the word, that made people leave anything they were doing and lap up gossip, information, sneak peeks, pictures and trailers of the film. Brand partners of the film – Van Heusen, Tata Sky and Samsung too got a piece of the pie and pushed their products through their star – the one, the only Aamir Khan. His newly worked out look, the eight-pack that defeated Shah Rukh’s measly six-pack was the headliner at dinner-table conversations. The two girls of the film were royally ignored and no one minded that. The director was ignored and no one minded that either. After all, how many directors are there who are willing to tell the same, stolen, stale story twice. While we were busy giving ourselves embarrassed sighs over the dominance of remakes of Hollywood films, we didn’t see a more sinister trend coming up –remake of a remake of a remake. Plato and his Republic died all over again.

A R Murugadoss made the first attempt at copying Christoper Nolan’s Memento in 2005 with the Tamil Ghajini starring Surya Sivakumar, Asin and Pradeep Rawat. The version we see today has the same cast with the exception of Aamir Khan who has replaced Surya Shivakumar and Jiah Khan who has replaced Nayantara.

The story is of a man whose fiancé was killed and he was given a massive blow on the head that lead to short term memory loss. He plans to kill the killer, which is not an ordinary task given his 15-minute memory span. He makes notes and takes photos of things and people to remind himself of his agenda.

It’s a unique storyline, but the kind whose novelty wears off after the first time (which was Memento). The Aamir Khan starrer, being the third, has nothing new to offer and is therefore little more than a miserable copy. A film like this, which has a weak storyline does the predictable – and tries over the top methods of populating itself. Unnecessary and graphic violence was the means by which Murugadoss chose to overcome this lack. His characters were weak and poorly defined, take Ghajini for instance, an actor who hails from the South was forced to adopt a Harayanvi accent, something that he was ill at ease with and something that did not gel with his appearance at all, especially given that he slipped out of it every now and again (I wouldn’t call that perfection, would you?). He was clearly a man of influence, even publicly, but what exactly his profession was, was undefined. He attended college functions as the chief guest but also made regular appearances to kill people – personally.

The real disappointment is however, Aamir’s character – Sanjay Singhania. Unfortunately, the director and the writers haven’t quite figured out for themselves the stand they want to take about short term memory loss. His 15 minute memory span expands and compresses as per need of the moment. He can be in an act and not remember why but also reach from one end of Mumbai to the next without any memory loss problems. Continuity and logic have taken the toll badly in this film. There is an interesting moment in the film when we see the renewed shock of Kalpana’s (Asin) death for Sanjay when he takes his shirt off and reads the message. But Aamir Khan gets so busy showing off his body and admiring it himself that few would be fooled into believing he is reading devastating messages. His disorder is mixed up with bouts of madness (for people like him it seems it’s the same thing) as he lives in a state of animal rage. And by animal, I mean real, growling, jumping, snarling type of animal. He goes from making sounds and gestures like dogs, tigers and even King Kong for that matter. Sadly, this is the man who gave us the most incredible portrayal a character ever saw – in Rangeela. Even he, who is widely projected as a perfectionist, never bothered to understand the logistics of short term memory loss and follow at least something consistently. The renewed shock of a man over the murder of his fiancée can be a challenging role, especially if the aim is to prevent it from being run-of-the-mill and repetitive. Instead Aamir chose to snarl to show blind rage. Not novel, not perfect.

Meanwhile, Asin who made a bold statement saying she too is a perfectionist like Aamir, made a forced attempt at a bubbly personality. In her defense, she may have done it well the first time around and lost steam by the second. Anyone who needs to reinstate her ‘jadu ki chhadi’ status repeatedly is surely not confident of her charm and ‘magic’ reaching out to people.

Jiah Khan meanwhile was so badly cast that little else can be said about her. Her weird accent coming and going, her static expression and poor dialogue delivery did not help this crumbling film.

The people may go to the theatres out of sheer curiosity, but that just means the PR people behind this film were brilliant, not the film itself.

8 comments

1 Sujay { 01.07.09 at 3:29 pm }

i completely disagree…i dnt think he did a bad job at all…sure, he dint play the character as well as he has before…but its nowhere close to bein the death of him as an actor.
every person has a different interpretation of loss…sum react with rage, sum with tears, etc…he chose rage…blind rage…maybe its not novel but its his interpretation, calling it bad acting is just being opinionated. the fact tht i wud react differently to sumthing doesnt mk sumbody elses reaction which is different, wrong.
and no, he does not stare at his body when hes reading the tattoos…thats just a blasphemous comment which again is too opinionated n biased. everybody whom i have spoken to about the movie were actually very moved by his screaming and crying, so in a way it was effective eventhough it wasnt novel.
yes, the movie was very ordinary and was more of a pr exercise…it doesnt deserve the accolades its getting but thts box office fr u.

2 Kuhu Tanvir { 01.07.09 at 4:14 pm }

Where was the scope to act? Unless you count the growling as something symbolic.
And most obviously people have ways of reacting to loss, but they need to remember the loss. I don’t think that his first scream when he relives the loss is the problem, but the lack of consistency in the way the character was conceptualised and played out was terrible. And I am sorry but I have to insist that he seems far more interested in his physique when he first takes his t-shirt off. And as far as being moved by screaming and crying is concerned, it happens, and that is why this quick trick is used to ‘reach out’ to people, but that doesn’t make it good cinema and certainly not good acting.

3 Kishore Budha { 01.07.09 at 5:02 pm }

I had watched the “original” film — the Tamil version — and beyond its bag of technical mastery, some clever edits, and cinematography, Ghajini had very little to offer.

I think we are better off asking why the film resonated with us and what does this tell us about Indian film audiences and the visual culture of Indian films. At an introductory level I think memories are a powerful subject. I would even venture out to say that memory is one of the bedrocks of narrative imagination in Indian films. But a more recent phenomenon is the body as the object of fetish. Aamir Khan encouraged the audiences to engage in voyuerism about the transformation in his body, his hair cut etc. If I am not wrong, the voyeurism behind Shah Rukh Khan’s “transformation” for Om Shanti Om too was actively encouraged by the star.

4 Sujay { 01.07.09 at 5:07 pm }

human emotions r too complex to categorise them…he screams when he remembers the loss…theres the consistency…he feels the pain of his loss so he screams everytime…sure the character wasnt written perfectly but calling it bad acting is again going to the extreme. n hes got anterograde amnesia…he keeps forgetting it n reremembers it…so wheres the point of ‘need to remember the loss??’
cynically u can call the screaming ‘a quick trick’…but it works…it reaches out to people…affects them…n thts gud acting in itself. if an actors potrayal affects people, that scene did…thats great acting right there.
n as far as the physiques concerned…cynicism in reviewing does tht. ur opinion becomes biased to a point that u try to find tricks and complexities in normality…in all the reviews that i hv read (which are quite a lot), not one of them mentions that he concentrates on looking at his physique more…so i m glad tht my opinion is shared by a massive majority of ppl.

5 Kuhu Tanvir { 01.07.09 at 5:12 pm }

I agree completely. Like I said at the very beginning, it was one hell of a PR job. Usually a kind of hypnotic but undefined hype encompasses a film, but it was a studied attempt and a great one because they made an less than ordinary film into a superhit.

About memory, I think you are right, at the level of theme and execution it is crucial to cinema and can be an interesting way to approach even realistic, historical films.

6 Shouvik { 01.07.09 at 7:02 pm }

Nice piece Kuhu.. I fail to understand why Indian film makers ignore the fact that – INDIANS DO WATCH HBO ! Almost every bollywood movie these days will share the storyline of an Successful or unsuccessful hollywood movie. Ghajini from Memento, Fashion – almost entirely based on Gia, Dostana – Chuck and Larry.. These were 3 out of the 5 movies i probably watched all of 08. OUt of which I loved Om Shanti Om.
Yea I SAID IT !

I feel Aamir Khan is an absolute nutter and his one movie a year is more of a marketing strategy than anything else.

You can market all you want but in the end the product has to deliver, his movies are not worth all this hype.

7 Kuhu Tanvir { 01.08.09 at 5:38 am }

Finally, some sense in this mad mad world. I’ve been crying myself hoarse about Om Shanti Om, i thought it was an intelligent film apart from being entertaining.

And what wouldn’t we give for an original movie….

8 Mallika { 01.09.09 at 7:42 am }

very well written kuhu

i was sitting in the hall and saying to myself ‘you know, om shanti om, jane tu and even sivaji were brilliant films. because they did exactly what they intended to. entertain.’

i dont think a movie like ghajini can be made even by our uncreative bollywood types. it required a tollywood masterstroke. i could not believe amir khan was dancing around in magenta pants on magenta cars. I was embarassed watching it, i dont know if he felt the same doing it.

jiah khan should be thrown out of the country. she has proved it yet again. she CANNOT act. she is not even pretty or sexy ( things that save the likes of aishwarya and shilpa shetty)
AND she wears magenta lipstick. yuck.

the film as flawed at just too many levels… short term memory loss – maybe they should start bylooking at the meaning of these words in the dictionary.

it was 3 hours of disbelief and torture. the buffed midget act cannot save this ghadhini.

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