Subhash K. Jha speaks about Ghajini

By Subhash K. Jha, Bollywood Hungama News Network

At mid-point when we watch in stunned silence as the protagonist tries to piece together his shattered life, an abrasive aggressive cop rummages through drawers for the second part of our memory-challenged hero's belligerent blood-thirsty love story.

The cop's anxiety is ours. By the time we reach interval we want to know about the trauma that changed the suave softspoken shy Sanjay Singhania (Aamir Khan) into a killing machine.

Earlier this month, we saw Shah Rukh Khan achieve a smooth 'chuckle'-and-hyde transition in Aditya Chopra's Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, from a staid middleclass husband to a boorish dancing dude.

Aamir Khan's makeover in Ghajini is far trickier and complex. It's not so much about the muscles. It's all in the mind. To play this character whose life changes overnight from a thirst for love to a hunger for vendetta, is an awesome responsibility to uphold for any actor. Aamir plays the traumatized amnesiac Singhania as an actor looking from the outside at a character that has detached itself from its own life. It's a performance of splendid skill and subtlety in a film that doesn't celebrate those qualities.

Mercifully this ode to mayhem is not a showcase for Aamir's muscles and histrionic hijinks. He reins in his gusto to let the character's stunning switch from roses to guns acquire a life that we haven't perceived such a stereotypical character achieve before.

Often Aamir lets his hugely-charming co-star Asin take over the scenes. She's a bit of a livewire, this fast-talking scooter-riding do-gooder with a penchant for getting into snarls.

And when one snarl involving a prostitution racket for minor girls takes her to the doorstep and beyond of savage death, we mourn for the passing of innocence and charm as much as Sanjay Singhania.

These are not pretty times that we are living through. Ghajini in some subverted way is indicative of our traumatic times. The brutal cocksureness with which the villain Ghajini(Pradeep Rawat) murders Kalpana and pounds Sanjay Singhania's head to a memory mess, is a telescopic view of what the sociopath can do to civil society.

No one is safe from criminal attack. Not even the super-elite like Sanjay Singhania.

Ghajini is not for the squeamish. The violence is prolonged, sadistic and often done with the elaborate abundance and eye-catching elan of a staged opera (Ravi Chandran's camerawork glistens and bristles with optimum optical glory).

And yet women in the audience seemed to love the film. Ghajini is at heart a love story of a cocooned tycoon who discovers love in a working-class environment.

Aamir Khan's expressions of bewilderment, curiosity pleasure and acceptance in Asin's company remind you of a baby that's just discovered mother-love.

That a film as violent as Ghajini secretes such tenderness at its heart, is a wonder that never ceases in the frenetic narration. Director Murugadoss is not completely successful in taking the Tamilian mood of melodramatized mayhem out of the narrative. He nevertheless succeeds in giving a compelling spin to what would have otherwise been a routine vendetta saga.

Sequences such as the one in the speeding train where Kalpana is chased down by goons have an edge-of-the-seat quality that elevates the potboiler plot to a level that the revenge genre in Hindi has seldom achieved.

The climactic combat with the eponymous villain is staged in narrow dusty lanes and bylanes where the rubble and waste material becomes lethal weapons of attack and stock-taking.

No doubt Murugadoss is a master of violence. His eye for pain and trauma are unerring and chilling.

A lot has been said and written about Aamir Khan's pumped-up physique. He's wonderfully primeval as the amnesiac animal screaming in bloodcurdling isolation. But the sinewy quality in Aamir's performance is not traceable to his muscles. It's the way his heart beats for this unfortunate character who loses love memory and faith all in one swoop, that makes Aamir's performance a towering achievement.

I am not too sure if the muscled look suits the actor. But his remarkable grip over his character's graph gives the film its vaunted and vibrant feel of poetry beyond the in-your-face savagery and violence which would have otherwise become unbearably oppressive.

Asin with her gamine-like dukaan of expressions is the female discovery of 2008. When she bows out of the plot, the lights go out. And not just from Sanjay Singhania's life.

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