Friday, October 28, 2011

Second Helping? No, Thanks!!!

Suriya in a still from Ghajini


Alright, you can stop shuddering just about right now. Please allow your sense of utter disbelief, downright disgust and mock shock to make way for a passive resignation of sorts to your fate. You might want to take your warmly-moist palms off your mouths to stop cupping it in a vice-like grip. Pretend for a while you weren’t horrified. During this time, you can also attempt to reattach your down and out lower jaw to its well-to-do, upmarket cousin – the upper jaw (duh). So far, so good?

What you had just undergone was a 30-second, almost TV AD-spot like recreation of the emotions that I, as an unsuspecting viewer had undergone around six years ago. It was the fateful month of October when I had gone to see the Tamil film Ghajini. What you felt for half a minute is what I experienced sitting through those godforsaken 180 minutes of Ghajini when it jumped from pillar to post, with no lubrication to speak of. 

Yesterday, after almost being dragged to watch the latest offering from the union of AR Murugadoss and Suriya, 7aum Arivu, I wisely decided to sell off my tickets for some peace of mind. I am glad I did, for it saved me a lot of heartache and prodded me to dig out this six-year-old blog posting. Ladies and gentlemen, the following article was my very first attempt at putting together a movie review. Its genesis was a result of the anger and frustration I had felt upon watching Ghajini. More than anything, I had felt cheated and that's never a good feeling.

However, channelizing my angst into words and lambasting the film proved to be a very cathartic experience. It helped me find some sense of closure in my moment of pain. It taught me a few valuable lessons that I haven't forgotten to this day. Chief among them happens to be, "Never take a film at face value." Inadvertently, almost every other film released in India, or even abroad, prides itself on going so overboard on face value, it's almost inevitable that the inside reveals itself to be hollow.

I won't bother touching upon how the so-called Diwali releases fared in the market. Primarily because I am not the audience for whom films like 7aum Arivu, Velayudham or Ra-One are made. I am happy living in the cocoon spun by my auteurs. Their works will last me a lifetime. Every so often, I shall abandon the comforts of my utopia and step out to sample the wares of a promising new talent. And then, I'll return back to my shell with the hope that someday, I get to spin that cinematic cocoon around a few good movie geeks. I am sure you already know who you are, if you are reading this. 

So, without further ado, here's the review. 

The alle­goric title of “Gha­jini” may seduce you to think that it’s a hi-concept new wave Tamil thriller in the mak­ing. Unfor­tu­nately it suc­ceeds at being noth­ing more than a shame­less, unwor­thy, pitiable and blas­phe­mous rip-off of one the most tightly wound and intri­cately struc­tured Hol­ly­wood thrillers of recent times, “Memento”.
Among the list of things that are wrong with Gha­jini, the most dis­turb­ing was the lack of restraint in direc­tion and act­ing. Despite the nature of Memento’s genre i.e. a thriller, its direc­tor, the enig­mat­i­cally gifted Christo­pher Nolan, asked his cast to metaphor­i­cally stay in the back­ground of the film and let the nar­ra­tive run its course. Resul­tantly, its char­ac­ters seemed sub­dued even while they were seething with anger. And that ques­tions the per­cep­tion of the viewer in smart ways and lets him do a lit­tle more of the thinking.

But in Gha­jini, the whole plot is laid bare; split wide open for the viewer’s tak­ing. There is noth­ing that is hid­den from the viewer. Visual clues every now and then cue you on the bare bones of the story. Repeated imagery of Surya’s body tat­toos, replete with errata (jeez, he’s a mobile baron for god’s sake) and doctor’s synopsis informs the viewer of the protagonist’s con­di­tion. A flash­back, the size of King Kong dri­ves the final nail into the coffin of the intel­li­gence of the audi­ence. The whole non-linear nar­ra­tive approach which made “Memento” so special has been com­pletely aban­doned here. The frac­tured structure was a key­stone to the success of “Memento”, with­out which it would have been just another “Primal Fear” spin off. Just like Anniyan. And that's what Gha­jini ends up to be. To be fair, even Anniyan had a dangler/cliffhanger kinda end­ing. Gha­jini just plain sucks.

“Gha­jini” is a dis­as­ter of Shakespearean mag­ni­tude when con­sid­ered on terms of nar­ra­tive form, struc­ture, tech­nique and crafts­man­ship. The lack of con­ti­nu­ity is appalling. Songs blast off right onto your face from the mid­dle of nowhere, timed at the most inap­pro­pri­ate moments, like a gust of flat­u­lence that per­me­ates your nos­trils while you were bask­ing in the wet warmth of a French kiss from your girlfriend (I know it's a bit extreme to say that, but that's the clos­est equiv­a­lent I found). Had the direc­tor and the edi­tors been a lit­tle more slack in their jobs with respect to con­ti­nu­ity and flow, you would’ve found the “Killing of Kalpana” scene imme­di­ately fol­lowed by Nayan Tara’s dis­turbingly titillating ren­di­tion of X-Machi (with a spe­cial appearance by Twin lay­ers of Cel­lulite flab from her abdom­i­nal region… Cheers).

The direc­tor leaves no stone unturned in his quest for copy­ing scenes. He goes so far as to pick out Jean Pierre Jeunet’s delec­table French film “Amelie” to accom­plish this Her­culean task. Remem­ber the scene where Kalpana helps a blind man cross the road and she explains to him the sounds of the street that they pass by. Want more? The open­ing cred­its of the film fea­tures a CGI (Com­puter Gen­er­ated Imagery) based flight through the neural networks in our brain. This is a shot by shot rip off of the open­ing cred­its scene of David Fincher’s “Fight Club”.

Speak­ing of which, even Har­ris Jayaraj fol­lows close in the foot­steps of his direc­tor try­ing to rip off tracks from known and unknown Hol­ly­wood film sound­tracks. The fight at the end of the film fea­tures a min­i­mally dis­torted ver­sion of the music which orig­i­nally plays in “The Matrix Reloaded” dur­ing the Ducati bike chase scene with Trin­ity and the Key­maker on the free­way. More..? The music which plays dur­ing the killing of Kalpana (Asin’s char­ac­ter) was orig­i­nally played in Glad­i­a­tor when Maximus (Russell Crowe) comes to his villa, only to find his fam­ily mur­dered. Bot­tom line: Har­ris Jayaraj does a lousy job with the back­ground score. Sounds like the doo­dling of a rav­ing lunatic. Unin­spired music and deaf­en­ing, ear pierc­ingly hi-pitched male cho­ruses inspire ads for Aspirin.

The “Killing of Kalpana” scene in Gha­jini is a copy in the truest of sense. Because Murugadoss makes Surya drip a decent quan­tity of saliva from his mouth as he lies wounded, look­ing at the corpse of Kalpana. And maybe this is his homage to Rid­ley Scott’s “Glad­i­a­tor” where Max­imus does the same secre­tion as he cries at his villa, albeit a lit­tle less spit and a lot more emo­tion. And then there’s the per­func­tory trib­ute to the Matrix films with stop motion cam­era work and a hor­ri­bly repli­cated bul­let time cam­era pan. At least Anniyan was good in this department.

Fol­low­ing are a few other notable craters in the plot­line of the film:

1) Inco­her­ence — Kalpana has never seen the face of a mobile baron whom she claims to be the lover of. Surya’s intro from the past lav­ishly shows that he’s a hi-flying, media friendly, indus­trial mag­nate. To top it all, Kalpana works in ads and even her boss hasn’t seen Surya. Clearly a cell phone com­pany will have a lot of ads to do. And the head of an ad agency should know bet­ter than to stay igno­rant of poten­tial cash cows like Surya’s com­pany. The icing on the cake is the New Year party clus­tered by media peo­ple where every­one knows him by face except our ad maker and Kalpana of course.

2) Unmo­ti­vated char­ac­ters — remem­ber The Police­man… why was he even there? Just to read out the first half of the story and to get run over by a truck at the end of it? Same goes for Surya’s flat secu­rity, busi­ness asso­ciates, Nayantara’s friends, and the list can go on. You would never even miss these char­ac­ters, were they not in the film. (OK, you can count in Nayan­tara in this cat­e­gory if you want).

3) Stale and time killing humor — Self Explanatory.

4) Treat­ment of women — Hope you didn’t miss the scene where Nayan­tara got punched in the face and kicked in the belly by the big bad bully. Oops, wasn’t that a Rhyme Scheme. I bet you didn’t miss the scene where she had to run in the rain, get all soaked up n wet in her under­sized pink shirt and her oh-so inno­cently vis­i­ble black inner­wear. Most men wouldn’t miss that. Or for that mat­ter, most women too wouldn’t miss that.

5) Pow­er­less Actors — who have no say in the final draft of the film. Inequal­i­ties and incon­sis­ten­cies obvi­ous to the most naive view­ers have been ignored by cast and crew.

Gha­jini is a dis­honor to the legacy of the orig­i­nal Memento. If you haven’t seen Memento as of now, get your­selves a copy of the DVD from Amazon.com and cher­ish the expe­ri­ence of the orig­i­nal. And save your brain the excru­ci­at­ing agony of sit­ting through this scat­o­log­i­cal pot Pourri of cheap thrills and a car crash of a film.

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