I saw a fantastic Aamir Khan film the other night, one where his obsession with a pretty woman led to him being clubbed on the head with a generic looking rod. The blunt force trauma led to amnesia, or so claimed Khan's character, leading to a wickedly fun plot, rife with both misunderstanding and subterfuge. Awesome stuff, Andaz Apna Apna.
Then, on Monday, I watched Ghajini. And an Andaz Apna Apna this ain't.
Before going into what it is, let us first dispense with the Memento talk.
The film's makers have ludicrously attached a disclaimer that says that because their film's protagonist suffers from a little-known medical disorder called anterograde amnesia, there is a likelihood that their story could feature elements common to other stories and films. Riight. Must be easy to be a specialist in the field then, a doctor who just needs to check the patient for a series of tattoos.
And while Ghajini might feature Aamir Khan going through the exact same condition Guy Pearce does in Memento yet -- despite the tattoos, the polaroids, and the vengeful hero with a penchant for post-its -- this is a pretty original desi picture, yes sir.
For director AR Murugadoss doesn't take that 'story' credit lightly: He's taken the Memento plot, set its non-linearity into chronological order, taken out the actual investigative intrigue and replaced it with a series of convenient coincidences and -- this one's the clincher -- added a full-blown backstory about how the hero met and fell in love with the murder victim, complete with a bunch of songs. It's hard work making good masala, for God's sake.
And Aamir Khan knows it well. It's dubious as to just how much that body needed to be beefed up -- heaven knows Guy Pearce didn't resemble a steroid commercial -- but Khan's dedication is impressive, no question. As Sanjay Singhania, the killing machine dedicated to tracking down his lover's killer, the actor plays a frenzied killing machine, clinical yet with a twisted, macabre fondness for gore. And he does really well.
His anterograde condition kicks in every fifteen minutes, which means he has to now restart investigation, scribble refreshed notes, and get back on track. And he's very well-versed in habit; at a point when he's suspicious despite having no self-scribbled clue to guide him, he analyses breathing patterns. It's a role that requires much consternation -- and Khan is truly wonderful when his character is bewildered -- as well as much over-the-top, frothing at the mouth rage.
That would have been it for his job description had this been a standard, well-produced action movie, but there is a hardcore filmi romance smack bang in the middle of it all -- one that has possibly a few minutes more screentime than the action section. And while Khan can still pour out the smitten-schoolboy charm at 43, the entire romantic part of the film is so depressingly obvious that it doesn't work at all, and only serves in slowing down the momentum of what would be an entertaining action film.
A large part of this blame must be assigned to the leading lady. Granted, Asin is straddled with a character that begs the suffix -ine to be tagged onto her name, but a strong performance could certainly have salvaged this half of the film. Her Kalpana is one of those do-gooder heroines soaking in earnestness and sympathy, the kind of character that went out of style back when Juhi Chawla was a heroine, and it needed much verve to actually make this work. She doesn't deliver -- her chirpiness is most painful -- and resultantly this rather stereotyped he's-rich-she-doesn't-know romance always seems underwhelming.
Even with the romance getting in the way, Murugadoss' version of the amnesiac killer could have been a very compelling watch. There are times when they take huge departures from the original film, and the what-if possibilities are most intriguing. Until, you discover, that nothing is done about them. In a chilling scene, the villain's goons strap Khan down and, after painting over his meticulously graffiti'd walls and his investigative charts, take out a tattoo gun and crudely rub out all his tattoos, the clues he's investigated for so long.
This sets you up beautifully for a sequence where Khan discovers this, one where he wakes up to realise that all his investigations have been in vain. Does he even know he was investigating in the first place? And how does he feel waking up to see a body covered in hideously scratched out tattoos? It's a trauma the character begs to be dealt with, but alas... the moment is ignored, possibly in favour of giving more time to the half-hour climax. Sigh.
This is a violent film, but there is no call for that besides shock. The gore seems gratituous -- there is a tap scene bordering on the laughable -- and while Khan leaps into his adversaries with an alarming intensity, somehow its hard to stomach a film where he stands in the middle of an alley and fells seven-with-one-blow. It is the kind of cinema we thought we'd seen the back of, and even if there's nothing wrong with escapist mainstream masala, both audiences and Aamir seem a little less used to it.
Pradeep Rawat plays the titular villain with undisguised glee making up for thespian skills, and Jiah Khan, glimpsed here after Nishabd, is actually quite decent in a character better written than that of the heroine. Unfortunately, the only time she does look super-hot (in white, in the Lattoo song) is the one song where the director keeps cutting away to the action, darn it. The songs are completely extraneous narrative killers, but Rahman's turned in a marvellous soundtrack and we'll lap them up uncomplainingly.
Watch Ghajini, though. Watch it for Aamir Khan, because I don't think I've seen him having this much fun as an actor in a very long time -- and that's always great to see. Not that I mean it's as good as Teelu, of course.
The film itself is impressive in bits, with some terrific sequences, but the romance takes away its thunder. It is a breezy watch that could have been a really crackling one, and while there really is timepass fun to be had, the overwhelming feeling is one of regret.
For what can you say about a film on memory loss that turns out forgettable?