Long in the making, very, very expensive, and heavily contested (both in the courts as well as behind the camera), the bragging rights for what is now the biggest movie in Indian history have been settled.
For anyone strong-willed enough to have escapedGhajini’s spell (more or less the same troopers who just returned from Jupiter), know this: After opening during the five-day Christmas holiday the world over, Ghajini initially raked in Indian Rs. 65,000,000 (approximately $13.5 million), which, given the vastly different economics of filmmaking in India, is equivalent to a planet-jolting $200 million opening in Hollywood. With a cumulative $42 million world-wide gross to date,Ghajini has easily shattered the long-time, inflation-adjusted box office cumulative total boasted by Ramesh Sippy’s legendary 1975 megahit, Sholay. And the fuss may actually be well-earned.
Filmmaker Murugadoss, who helmed the 2005 Tamil super hit by the same name, teams up with Aamir Khan for a film that takes itself serious—too seriously in some stretches. Together, Murugadoss and Khan create a crafty backwards-winded jigsaw puzzle that pivots on the medical phenomenon of short term memory loss. Borrowing from the 2000 Hollywood hit Memento, this Murugadoss-penned story features Khan as Sanjay Singhania, an industrialist who may have witnessed his wife’s murder and now wants revenge.
Since Singhania suffers from recurring 15-minute memory lapses—thanks to a debilitating head blow inflicted by the killer—the only way he can keep his quest on track is by tattooing his body with clues as he stumbles upon them. By far the most vital clue is the name of the killer, Ghajini, scrawled on a party invite. (How ironic that a movie that has collected so much box office loot is named after a villain!)
Roping in an unusually buffed-up Khan (how else to show off those tats?) opposite newcomer Asin (who sailed in the same role in the Tamil “original” opposite Surya Sivakumar), as Singhania’s girlfriend, Kalpana, proved to be a good omen. Asin lends her model-turned-social-activist the gravitas and earthiness the script needs to balance Khan’s over-the-top vigilante tycoon.
Khan’s Singhania is all brawn and glaring. In the opening sequence, where the pumped up, vengeful Singhania kicks in a door to nail a suspect, his eyes take on a mesmerizing, demonic glare. Murugadoss cunningly wants you to think Singhania is the villain, and Khan’s irresistibly creepy Singhania does the trick.
For accompaniment, there are picturesque backdrops in Namibia and South Africa, and well-timed comic touches as Singhania romances the ad-agency model Kalpana. Ghajini also scores for the yet-another hit music score from the prodigious A. R. Rahman. Check out the Javed Ali-Sonu Nigam crooned signature tune “Guzarish.” In the wake of the runaway successes of Jodhaa Akbar, Jaane Tu … Ya Jaane Na, Yuvraaj, Slumdog Millionaire, and nowGhajini, Rahman’s run of massive scores in 2008 surely deserve a record of their own. No matter how it is sliced, Ghajini emerges a winner.
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.