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Pans and Tilts
Aamir Khan Film Is a Bad Copy
By Gautaman Bhaskaran
South Asia Correspondent
The latest Aamir Khan starrer, "Ghajini"

Long ago, a top Bollywood producer advised a fledgling young filmmaker to take a plane to London, watch a Hollywood movie and make a copy of it in Hindi peppering it with local masala and mirch! Those were the days when films were not easily available on disks, far less so on pirated ones. However, with pirated copies of the latest Hollywood releases out in the Indian market merely days after they open in the West, Indian producers need not fly to the UK or USA to get their desi versions scripted.

The latest Aamir Khan starrer, "Ghajini," is a classic case of such repackaging. Though it has reportedly grossed Rs two billion ($ 41 million) in less than two weeks after its December 25 opening, overtaking the 1995 "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge," "Ghajini" is a rip-off from Christopher Nolan's "Memento" (2000).

Well, most people in India would not have seen "Memento," and to them "Ghajini" could well be something brand new. And with Khan's punk hairstyle (I am told the holy priests of Puri's Jagannath Temple have begun to sport this cut.) and Asin debuting in Bollywood, the movie has these pluses to push it ahead. The attractive publicity campaign must have also seduced many into the cinemas.

Were these men and women disappointed? Or, were they satisfied? We would never know, but writer-director A.R. Murugadoss' "Ghajini" (a remake from Tamil with the one in Hindi being a copy of a copy) is a wild shot in exaggerated exuberance. A romantic thriller, a psychological mish-mash and a song-and-dance extravaganza, all rolled into a 184-minute bundle, the film would leave even a veteran Bollywood fan foxed.

Nolan's central character suffering from a short-term memory loss is Murugadoss' Sanjay (Khan), a biceps exhibitionist and an unbelievably powerful business magnate with a private jet and black-suited men to escort him around as he goes about clinching money-spinning deals and doling charity. When soft spoken Sanjay meets loud-mouth upcoming model, Kalpana (Asin), bragging about her conquest of him, not realising that he is the man, a strange chemistry begins to work. Sanjay woos her without revealing who he is — not just with flowers and fragrance, but also a fabulous flat, a gift passed off as a prize won in a lottery conducted by the mobile phone company he owns.

Tragically, Kalpana, whose passion extends beyond paint and polish, costumes and catwalk, to the betterment of society angers Ghajini (Pradeep Rawat), who is into extortion and exploitation of orphan girls. He and his henchmen butcher Kalpana and batter Sanjay into a man with just a 15-minute memory. Thus challenged, he goes about with a Polaroid camera, a little notebook, huge markings on his home walls and ugly tattoos on his body – each reminding him that he must avenge his sweetheart's murder.

While a hugely transformed Sanjay goes about roaring for the kill in parts that play like a horror movie, a medical student (Jiah Khan) and a cop (Riyaz Khan) try out two different forms of investigations into the man's challenged life. At the end, in what appears like a rerun of the earlier mayhem, Ghajini tries to bludgeon the student and Sanjay. But then Bollywood baddies cannot have the last laugh and the course of a film from Mumbai's magic stables has to be predictable to the last frame.

What is not quite, though, is Aamir Khan's performance that swings from the animated to the alluring. As the man crippled by a frightening memory loss, he is angry and excellent, but as the lover he is not as convincing, a poor script being in all probability the cause. I can never understand how fashion model fails to recognise a well known businessman, and till the end she is in the dark about this. And strangely, Sanjay becomes a one-man army when he begins to pursue Ghajini. Where is Sanjay's empire? Where are the men who guarded him? Where are those who were part of his very existence? In the end, the story boils down to a pathetic picture of Jiah Khan helping a savage Sanjay take on evil.

Often the violence is sickening and the romantic hyphens that link one set of sadistic images to another in the movie's flashback-flash-forward style, provide little relief. "Ghajini" is too ghoulish for the spoonfuls of sugar to even remotely sweeten it. If it is this kind of rancid romp that audiences savour my hats off to their taste — that is if the stated theatrical admission figures are true. Given the climate of corporate deceit that prevails in India, I am not so sure.



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Gautaman Bhaskaran is a veteran film critic and writer who has covered Cannes and other major international festivals, like Venice, Berlin, Montreal, Melbourne, and Fukuoka over the past two decades. He has been to Cannes alone for 15 years. He has worked in two of India’s leading English newspapers, The Hindu and The Statesman, and is now completing an authorized biography of India’s auteur-director, Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Penguin International will publish the book, whose research was funded by Ford Foundation.

 

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