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January 4, 2009

Movie Review – Ghajini (2008)



The screenwriter of Ghajini knew a good thing when he saw Memento. Like the protagonist of its American inspiration, Sanjay (Aamir Khan) suffers from a bizarre species of amnesia that renders him unable to form new memories. He functions in 15 minute increments, connecting the pieces of his life using tattoos, photographs, and notes. His overriding purpose is to find and kill Ghajini, the mysterious crime boss who destroyed his life.

The similarities to Memento end at this establishing premise. Ghajini is essentially a straightforward revenge drama, although the plot is deliciously complicated by Sanjay’s short-term memory loss. The amnesia is a debilitating condition and Sanjay’s revenge-driven life is the stuff of tragedy. The film adopts an appropriately somber and mournful aspect to tell this part of the story, reaching its climax in an intense, thrilling confrontation between hero and villain (and villain’s many minions).

At the same time, the film is a musical and love story that adheres to the familiar conventions of Bollywood cinema. It accommodates the demands of the formula by incorporating an extended flashback to Sanjay’s life before the attack that caused his amnesiac condition. Both the flashback and main story unfold chronologically, although the two parts are intercut for dramatic effect.


The flashback centers on Sanjay’s meeting and courtship of Kalpana (played in a scene-stealing performance by newcomer Asin), a beautiful, openhearted, and vibrant young woman. All of the film’s musical numbers are in the flashback, and the visual design in this part is characterized by warm colors, brightly lit rooms, and open, welcoming spaces. In stark contrast, the visual design of the main story is characterized by grays and neutrals, harsh and dim lighting, and closed-in, oppressive spaces.

Khan’s performance likewise emphasizes the oppositional relationship between Sanjay’s life before and after. In the flashback, he plays a normal, likable man, successful in his career and happy in his love affair. The present-day person is physically and emotionally broken, living in a perpetual state of disorientation and when reminded of Kalpana’s fate, consumed by animalistic rage.

A note about the musical numbers: The musical numbers are no more than pleasant interludes, although two of the film’s songs (the second of which plays over the closing scene and credits) are quite beautiful. There is minimal dancing and the staging and choreography are unremarkable.

3 stars