For those who thought “Memento” would have been a better movie with a few more songs and a lot more ass-kicking, writer-director A.R. Murugadoss offers “Ghajini,” an exuberantly excessive and unreasonably entertaining mash-up of musical-comedy romance, action-movie mayhem and psycho-thriller suspense. Even auds accustomed to the anything-goes outrageousness of many Bollywood multi-genre masalas may be left slack-jawed and breathless after experiencing this singularly wild ride. Pic has opened to boffo biz in India and likely will help expand the North American crossover market for similarly idiosyncratic imports.
Remaking his own 2005 Tamil-language production of the same title, Murugadoss co-opts the central gimmick of Christopher Nolan’s 2001 time-twisting drama — a man inflicted with short-term memory loss hunts for a loved one’s killer — in a scenario that, for the first 30 or so minutes, plays almost like a horror opus.
Sanjay (Hindi cinema superstar Aamir Khan) — snarling furiously as his angry eyes nearly pop out of his scarred, shaven head — is introduced while delivering the coup de grace to an outmatched opponent. He takes a Polaroid photo of the body — not out of pride, aud quickly learns, but simply to remember what he’s done. And just in case that’s not enough to tip you off to the “Memento” connection, Sanjay also consults helpful reminders tattooed on his body.
For very different reasons, an inquisitive medical student (Jiah Khan) and a hardboiled cop (Riyaz Khan) focus on Sanjay, who’s surprisingly easy to locate, if not subdue, when he isn’t whipping himself into fits of fury that might shame the Incredible Hulk. An investigation leads to the fortuitous discovery of Sanjay’s diaries. And that in turn leads to … well, the first of the pic’s full-throttle production numbers.
Extended flashbacks reveal that, before his anger-management problems began, Sanjay was the fabulously successful owner of a cell-phone biz. So successful, in fact, that Kalpana (Asin Thottumkal, a vet of the 2005 “Ghajini”), an up-and-coming model, greatly benefits when folks mistakenly assume (and she encourages them to believe) she is Sanjay’s fiancee. When the rumors reach Sanjay, he visits Kalpana and, instantly smitten, tries to win her with love, not money.
Unfortunately, Kalpana runs afoul of Ghajini (Pradeep Rawat), a vicious crime lord who specializes in exploiting orphans. Even more unfortunately, Ghajini and his minions slaughter Kalpana, then sadistically batter Sanjay until he’s brain-damaged and memory-challenged.
All of which might make “Ghajini” sound more linear and cohesive than it really is. In reality, the pic careens through vertiginous shifts of tone and style, alternating between bold extremes of love-story sweetness and revenge-drama savagery. The violent scenes are amped up to a point perilously near self-parody, as are the romantic interludes and song-and-dance sequences. It would all be too much, too often, if people on both sides of the camera didn’t seem so sincere while bounding over the top.
To describe the performances merely as animated would be an understatement; operatic is a lot closer to the mark. (Aamir Khan, it’s worth noting, is equally persuasive whether crooning tunes or snapping necks.) Production values, including the eclectic score by Rahman (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and vivid lensing by Ravi K. Chandran, are impressive.
Savoring “Ghajini” — which, despite its 184-minute length, is a romp — is an experience roughly akin to rapid-fire channel-surfing among cable networks aimed at every conceivable demographic group. To put it another way: Imagine a romantic comedy in which a mercurial Hugh Grant occasionally kills someone with his bare hands, and a sprightly Drew Barrymore ends up impaled and bludgeoned to death. And, every so often, the kids from “High School Musical” pop up for a razzle-dazzle song and dance. Yes, “Ghajini” is that trippy. And, naturally, that’s what makes it so much fun.