Damaged Neurons!

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You know neurons will figure big in the film when the opening credits unfold to a stylized neural network much like Paycheck meets Fountain (with a bit of the Fantastic Voyage thrown in). The film starts with a professor is lecturing Jiah and a cohort of medical students on how important the brain is for us (!) and then the patient Sanjay Singhania is introduced – he has anterograde amnesia. Now this is very crucial to the film, and memory loss by clockwork is in essence the movie. BUT did no one figure out what that kind of amnesia really is? And missing out on that very key point is in the end the downfall of the film.

Sanjay Singhania (Aamir Khan) has short-term memory loss due to a traumatic head injury and in true Memento style he keeps his important short-term memories as notes, photographs and tattoos. Forget the bus chases and mysterious disappearance from a moving bus, and the 3-foot pipe that came from a wash-basin and ended up in a goon’s belly, the story of Sanjay’s life is revealed as a policeman chases him down, whacks him hard with a bat and starts to read his diaries (kept in Hindi for some mysterious reason). Thus we are introduced to Sanjay the Cell Phone business tycoon who went to school in the US – I could swear I heard Howard, but all this happened pre-Obama! We are introduced to Kalpana (Asin) – a Mother Teresa + Maria of Sound of Music. Then in a Sajan like twist she makes up a story of romance with the tycoon. It makes big news, but while the tycoon is interviewed on CNN and the romance written about, strangely enough no one has seen this man. And I thought they only blanked out the faces of criminals and victims on TV. Even when he writes a check for 5 lacs for charity, Kalpana continues to believe he is a struggling out of work actor. In a most weirdly written scene she takes a night to decide that “Why not, let us love!” She even sells her car to give him money for his “Ma ka Ilaaj”, saves more children from prostitution and forcible kidney donations and this seals her fate. The goons come for her and since this is a potboiler revenge saga, they get her with yet another piece out of a hardware store as she whispers “Ghajni” in his ear. Her death scene is poignant, but also long drawn out to soulful music, so we really feel Sanjay’s pain as he watches helplessly after having taken his share of bashes from same piece of hardware. Ok – with that head trauma now accounted for, the revenge is on. He no doubt recalls Ghajini – it is anterograde amnesia – i.e. memories from before the trauma stay. The rest of the film he tracks Ghajni and his henchmen and kills them until he is discovered and his memories are erased – a Paycheck moment when the tattoos are blanked out and the pictures burnt! Jiah then acts as the instrument that will help him recreate these memories and eventually destroy Ghajini. We end in a Mohabbatein like moment with Sanjay holding the hands of an imagines Kalpana!

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So what worked and what did not? The biggest flaw for me was that Sanjay was never shown to have any recollection of Kalpana – something that was and should have been part of his memories prior to his head trauma. In the absence of any tender memories of Kalpana in his present life, his entire existence was to extract an empty tattoo driven revenge. Kalpana was shown but always as a flashback of someone reading about his life – never as part of his current memories. Kalpana herself was a most ridiculously written character – a caricature of a woman, perhaps every man’s imagining of a chirpy, helpful, sexy, Mother Teresa type – who says you can’t have it all? Why was Sanjay unable to tell Kalpana the truth about his life? Perhaps the point was that there is a common man hidden in every big man who yearns for such common girls, and traveling in an auto or BEST bus – or Rab please bana do ordinary jodi! (Thanks to Devesh for this apt definition of Sanjay’s problem ☺ ) There seems not much point in enumerating the extensive plot problems – I am told potboilers should not be thus scrutinized. But it did seem ridiculous that Ghajini was preparing for a confrontation, had numerous guns at all times when he killed his enemies (including the OK Corral in the garage), but strangely lost the keys to the “gun cabinet” in the final battle. The Bachchan potboilers had him as a lone man with a lathi facing off 10 goons. Here a barehanded Aamir faces off 10 goons armed with all kinds of implements and no man is left standing. In Memento 2 people died at the hands of the protagonist. In Ghajini an army was decimated by a mini Hulk-like lead man using bare hands accompanied with enough grunting and growling to suggest ferocity. The bodybuilding was perhaps suited to a driven man, but then what was happening in the pre-accident song Guzaarish? In fact I have never seen an AR Rahman soundtrack this poorly utilized (I did not see Yuvraaj). Except for Kaise Mujhe (which was a ‘move the film forward’ type of song) and the butchered Lattoo, every other song was imagined and detracted from the narrative. As for the lead man strutting about like a bird of paradise in various crinkly scarves – that by no means enhanced the songs. The villain was the most extreme and poor caricature in recent memory.

The positives were the moments when Aamir would stop in bewilderment at what he was doing, Jiah’s faking that she was accompanying him instead of being chased by him, the developing romance, and the tragedy of the death of Kalpana. It was ironic that she was betrayed to the goons by Sanjay’s phone call, and was killed in his apartment, in his presence. At the heart of Memento was the recollection that the protagonist had of a horrific assault on his wife prior to the attack on him as the perpetrators escaped. This formed the basis for his relentless search for her “killers”. But by not allowing Sanjay to retain any memories of Kalpana (while at the same time curiously retaining the name of Ghajini – how did he know for that first time?) and the attack on her, a huge opportunity to humanize Sanjay’s violent killings and brutality was lost. It was hard to connect with any of it.

Asin did decently in her role – despite the fact that it was one dimensional and poorly written. In fact she had identical in expression to the Tamil version in every frame. Jiah was a poor choice and barely acceptable. Aamir was competent in the pre-accident part, although he lacked the natural charm and charisma that Surya possessed in that role. An appropriate comparison is when Sanjay goes to confront Kalpana for the gossip piece, meets her and is attracted. Aamir came across as goofy while Surya hit all the right expression from annoyance to amusement to a bemused sort of attraction. As the enraged protagonist too his physicality made the role much more believable. I found it hard to accept Aamir as the violent avenger – lifting up and throwing about men twice his size did not seem believable, particularly not when done 10 times. The film could have been shortened by half an hour if they had cut out the filler songs, and by and hour if someone had given Aamir a gun in the last fight!

Too much gratuitous violence and not enough emotional engagement or justification left me feeling empty. The film centered around these extended and near reverent violent pieces with some romance thrown in as a sop! So here is what I have to say to Aamir – bahut hua bematlab mawaalipana, now get back to the causes – you can do better than this tripe.

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