Memento Redux

Ghajini, starring Surya and Asin and directed by A.R. Murugadoss is a remake of Memento. Yes, that Memento. If you have even a passing familiarity with the film industry in India, you will know right away that a remake of a Hollywood classic means a watered down version that takes the original premise, and somehow contrives to wrap it around a “love-story,” five songs, seventeen fight sequences, and several voice overs that explain crucial plot points to the audience. And so, there is a certain recalibration of expectations that is required to enjoy such remakes.

Viewed from a lens thus recalibrated, Ghajini is an eminently enjoyable movie. Murugadoss borrows the rudimentary plot from Memento – revenge of the amnesiac – and manages to Indianise it without too many holes. The scriptwork and screenplay are tidy, and the dialogues refreshingly down to earth. Even the two heroines don’t seem too out of place in the script and that in itself is an achievement.

Surya and Asin act reasonably well and Nayanthara has a role that is peripheral enough that her performance doesn’t matter too much. Although, I must admit I was a little traumatized when I saw her dance to an item number – every part of her literally shook, and in a startling reminder of Newton’s first law, certain parts kept shaking even after she had stopped dancing.

*Digression* If you are a college professor who came to this page through Google looking for “Nayanthara, shaking, Newton,” feel free to ignore my Creative Commons license and use this example to teach Newton to your students. You can even take them on a field trip to the nearest movie theater playing Ghajini. *End Digression*

Surprisingly enough, the best part of the movie is the flashback – the mandatory sequence to explain how Surya lost his memory and hair. Murugadoss is very comfortable handling the romantic scenes between his lead pair, and the casual humor that pervades the romance between Surya and Asin is a treat.

The songs are atrocious, and the stunt sequences are a little too long, but overall Ghajini is one of the better masala movies out of Tamil this year.

The Fly On The Wall:

Regular readers of this blog (can you laugh a little less loudly, please?) are probably aware that we have sources all over the place. A couple of them were willing to talk to us (off the record of course, what do you think?) for this review.

A conversation between Harris Jayaraj, the music composer and Murugadoss, the director:

“So Harris, what do you think about the movie?”

Harris mumbles, then stops, grins, scratches his hair, picks his nose and mumbles again.

“So Harris, what do you think about the movie?”

Harris mumbles again. “Do you think my hair is long enough?”

“Let us get this straight man – you do a pathetic Rahman imitation. Now answer my frickin’ question.”

“Hmm, it is good. Grunt. Umm. The flashback is funny. But the rest of it is very serious. Need more comedy.”

“You think so? I asked the producer for more money to shoot some funny scenes, but he said no. Now I am worried.”

“Hmm. Umm. Hmm. Umm. I will take care of it with my background music.”

“Huh?”

“Wait and watch.”

Watch we did. And we are glad to report that Harris was very, very successful in his endeavour.

Whenever Surya shows up on screen, a voice screams in the background:

“Bo Zo….. Bo Zo. Booooo…. Zooooo.” The speed of the chant varies according to the need of the scene (naturally). To ensure that the same joke doesn’t get repeated too often the next time Surya shows up, the same voice chants:

“Zo Lo.. Zo Lo…Zo Lo”.

I have to admit, it had me in splits. Great job, dude.

A conversation between Surya and his Dad:

“Dad, I have this role in this new movie and I am supposed to be an amnesiac for good two hours. Any advice?”

“Drink coconut water, don’t smoke, don’t drink, do Yoga and get out of your relationship with Jothika.”

“Dad, I asked for acting tips, not this crap.”

“Oh, ok. Have you seen me act angry in movies?”

“You mean where you keep your body erect, roll your eyes and shake your head robotically back and forth?”

“Yes. Exactly. Do that.”

For once, Surya listened to his dad.

PS: Hemant has a more conventional review up on Instant Kaapi, and I agree with most of what he says.

10 thoughts on “Memento Redux”

  1. An excellent review bro. Im link-rolling this post.

    Tamil movies are getting flashy but the stories remain much to be desired. But dont you think this is another good portrayal of women in movies (minus the Nayanthara ‘I used to be Rajini Gal’ (something like Bond Gals)).

  2. Great review. Very funny.
    I was pleasantly surprised to note that Tamil directors even wanted to challenge themselves with material like Memento. Of late, they appear to be content going all the way to AP for “new” & “different” storylines.
    I’d wagered that Surya will get “cured”, marry the doc & live happily ever after. If the movie’s been as Indianized as you say it has, it looks like I may just win my bet.

  3. DoZ, someone’s gonna make a lot of money. Something tells me it is not you :). But then again, you weren’t that far off.

  4. Karthik, I bow in submission; couldn’t have asked for better. The HJ-Murgadoss conversation not only made me laugh like hell, it may give me a good night’s sleep ’cause someone has explained HJ’s bg music the way I wanted it best.

  5. Yeah the movie was entertaining except for the last part. But there are some plot holes. Where did he get the photos of all the bad guys from?
    and if he is such a rich/powerful guy why does he want to kill everyone himself. oh I know the answer…..to make a hit movie.
    BTW a great review.

  6. The allegoric title of “Ghajini” may seduce you to think that its 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 ie 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 inform the viewer of the protagonist’s condition. A flashback, the size of KingKong 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 thats 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 its a bit extreme to say that, but thats 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 titilating rendition of X-Machi (with a special appearence 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 Murugadas 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 perfuntionary 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, 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.

  7. Bijoy,

    That qualfies as the longest comment ever on this blog. Thanks for taking the time.

    I’m not sure you read the first couple of paragraphs of my review – the difference between you guys (Navin, you) and us (Hemanth, me) is that we *knew* upfront that this was not going to be a Memento. I’ve watched Memento a couple of times,and it is one of my all-time favorites, but I know Tamil movies well enough to understand what to expect when I go in.

    The non-linear narrative is not something a director could’ve done in Tamil – that would guarantee a flop. In Hollywood, audiences go in expecting to be challenged – they enjoy the odd riddle, the occasional open ended climaxes and the fun of figuring out things by themselves.

    Our audiences want entertainment – sheer mindless entertainment that keeps them occupied for a few hours. And Ghajini succeeds in that, so it is a good movie by our standards. If you don’t recalibrate your expectations when you go in to watch a Tamil movie, there will only be a couple every year (if that) that you can watch; I watch two a month…

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