Even among sequels, Deol’s Ghayal Once Again and Prakash Jha’s Jai Gangaajal stand out for continuing a narrative that started—in film speed —more than 10 years ago for each of them. The original Ghayal (1990) was Deol’s Rajkumar Santoshi-directed entry that wowed both critics and the box office as a valid action adventure with a purpose. It was Deol’s biggest hit untilGadar (2001). Even if over-the-top in its action delivery, Ghayal Once Again fits Deol’s onscreen persona like a glove and flexes just enough muscle to please the legions of die-hard Deol fans.
Picking up 25 years after the original story ended, Ajay Mehra (Deol), having served a jail sentence for killing a mobster, now runs a small independent newspaper. Ajay’s exposés on connecting dotted lines between certain captains of industry and the underworld are perennially embroiled in controversy. The sudden death of his retired old pal Inspector Joe (Puri), draws attention to college-student Zoya (Diana Khan) who may have accidentally captured Joe’s murder on her smartphone. With a band of cunning students on the one hand and well-connected gangsters who unleash their full underworld army to retrieve the video on the other, Ajay may be the only savior that can help restore order.
Pushing sixty, this heavily hair-dyed version of Deol has slowed down only a little—in large part due to camera angles that capture both facial anger and threatening (to the bad guys) poses at just the right juncture. He also nicely delegates a lot of the running around to the college group who threaten to make the video viral. There are secret hideouts and shopping malls where tween-somethings know the retail maze like the back of their laptops. The hot cell phone could be just about anywhere!
As the retired cop Joe, Puri is in fine form—but as is often the case, Puri is not utilized fully. His full acting chops are best seen in non-Indian movies. In most Indian movies, Puri is just another character actor. Zoya Khan as the psychiatrist that Ajay turns to for help with repressed rage from long ago and younger performer Patil and Diana Khan all remain true to their roles. Even Meenakshi Seshadhri, who played Ajay’s wife in the original Ghayal makes an appearance in a pivotal scene. For the most over-the-top touches—this is after all an action movie —there is Jha as the media tycoon Raj Bansal and Kumar as his son Kabir. This father-son duos’ megalomania pervasively corrupts everything they touch.
Released under Deol’s own Vijayta Films banner, effectively giving Deol full control over most every aspect of the movie, Deol’s instinct for zeroing in on key demographics is apparent in how the narrative comes across. In a hyper-connected planet in tune with a younger demo, there is ample and frequent use of smartphones, videos that go viral and cell coverage geography that plausibly teeters on and off to fit the escape-in-a-cinch pacing in the second half of a somewhat uneven delivery.
The other go-to demo that has been Deol’s bread and butter since Deol’s hit debut in Betaab (1983) are the legions of Deol fans primarily in Deol’s native Punjab. The Deols—Sunny, his brother Bobby and their father, the veteran actor Dharmendra—are virtual box office demigods in Punjab.
This key demo, one of the most well-defined in all of Indian cinema, helped turn Deol’s onscreen character’s call for patriotic and ethnic pride in Gadar into a blockbuster phenomenon. Thanks to this smart marketing, Ghayal Once Againhas become a sizable box office hit. So much so that Deol is contemplating a third installment down the road. If smart demos and tuned-in scripts will be used with such ferocity again, we may just not mind.