At the recently held Indian Screenwriters? Conference in Mumbai, writer-director Abbas Tyrewala lamented the lack of villains in Bollywood. He said that clearly defined villains used to be our staple diet.
This was true until sometime in the mid-1990s, when happy smiling families and yuppies in designer clothes took over. Well, I'm happy to report that the villain is back.
Ghajini, played ferociously by Pradeep Singh Rawat, is the kind of villain who wears thick gold chains and rings on every finger. He is defiantly brutal - he runs a pharmaceutical company but for reasons never explained, he likes to smash iron rods into human heads and forces young girls into both prostitution and organ trade.
He has one gold tooth, wears shiny white shoes and keeps a posse of henchmen so ugly that they look like they were airlifted from Ram Gopal Varma's last film. And of course Ghajini routinely drops lines like: aise marenge ki uska nakhun bhi nahi milega and my personal favourite: short-term memory loss patient mujhe kya yaad dilaayega.
Ghajini, director A R Murugadoss's remake of his Tamil blockbuster, is a throw back to what Hindi films used to be: a three hour extravaganza of romance, comedy, action, set-piece songs and drama.
It's a standard revenge film given a fresh twist with a dash of Christopher Nolan's critically acclaimed Memento. Like that film, the protagonist here, Sanjay Singhania played by Aamir Khan, is hit on the head and suffers from short-term memory loss. He cannot remember anything for more than 15 minutes.
So, he tattoos his body with instructions: the most important one being that his girlfriend Kalpana was murdered, and he must find the murderer and kill him. The film is riddled with logical loopholes but Murugadoss, who also wrote it, doesn't give you enough time to think about them.
So, you never ask how Sanjay, the fabulously wealthy owner of a cellphone company, conducts a lengthy romance with Kalpana, played by debutant Asin, pretending to be an ordinary man? Or why Ghajini, a master-thug and expert killer, doesn't have a gun when he needs it the most? Or why the key conflict, which leads to Kalpana's death, is such a random imposition on the script?
Instead, you are caught up in the mystery of how a superbly stylish businessman becomes a killing machine who routinely cracks necks and in his introduction scene, plunges a broken tap into a man's stomach. Ghajini isn't for the faint-hearted. The violence is gory and elemental. The climax is pure man-on-man combat with lots of crunching bones.
For Aamir, Ghajini is a 360 degree turn from the sensitive teacher he played in Taare Zameen Par. With a buffed up, eight-pack body, here he is a brutal killer in a murderous rage. Watch him as he explodes with grief and then just as quickly forgets it. It's a memorable performance indeed.
Thankfully Asin is less animated than she was in the Tamil version. Some of their romantic scenes, and particularly her death are nicely done.
Ghajini isn't a great film or even a very good one but I recommend that you see it. It is, as we used to say in the old days, paisa vasool.