Ghayal was a landmark film in my childhood. It is about a wounded man (‘ghayal’ means ‘wounded’) framed for the murder of his brother. His brother has been killed by the most powerful man in the city and as a result of his death, the title character’s life unravels and he becomes immersed in a world of corruption. This Ajay (‘unconquered’, ‘invincible’) takes revenge, not just for his own loss, but for every Ajay. I’ve watched the movie many times with my own brother. The film investigates brotherhood, family, law and power. My favourite scenes from the first film are firstly, when a police officer strikes a young student in the police station and knocks off his glasses. Ajay picks them up and puts them back on the student’s face. He tells him to remember his anger and hold on to it, because that same anger will wash out all the dirtiness in the city. Another scene is equally powerful. Ajay seems to be thwarted in his revenge by a mob of policemen who beat him. On the cusp of failure, Varsha, his girlfriend, hands him the gun and his revenge and his fight for justice is enabled.
There was a lot riding on the sequel. The hero of the first movie, Sunny Deol, was now ignored by the film community and the general public. He was considered ‘a flop’ despite all of his great achievements in Indian cinema (his film Gaddar, for example, is supposedly the most watched Indian movie in the cinema theatres in modern India in terms of footfall and Damini, where he plays a supporting role, was one of the great woman-centric films in Hindi cinema). He wasn’t getting good films coming his way. He had to prove himself as a director and a hero with his own comeback film. And – he is my favourite hero.
The sequel to the movie concentrates on the fight for ‘the truth’ against the corruption of power. With his life sentence complete, Ajay starts a newspaper called Satyakam (‘Believer in the truth’) and becomes well known as an investigative journalist. At an award ceremony, Ajay meets four young people who have saved a woman’s life. During the course of a wildlife photography shoot, the four accidentally record a murder on camera – it is of a good friend of Ajay’s whose murder was previously presented as due to an accident. The recording shows two of the city’s most powerful people involved in the murder. The four young people become embroiled in a fight with the most powerful man in the city and they call Ajay to help them.
The film shows a new technologically advanced India, not least from the aerial shots of Mumbai which I have never seen before in Indian cinema. There is a dog called ‘Skype’ and one of the young people in the movie is a blogger. Phone hacking, computer hacking and surveillance video feature heavily. A lot has changed in terms of technology and what we see on the cinema screen now.
The movie concentrates on the ‘wounded’ aspect of Ajay. The film introduces him in the throes of mental distress. Ajay’s wounds are an important part of him. It is said that it is his very wounds that are his strength because he can overcome great pain. However, Ajay’s wounds cost him something. They torment him constantly. The deaths of all those around him who he loved (even Varsha is dead) is an open scar which threatens to overwhelm him. He has been through mental anguish and mental illness, his life bereft of purpose. It is only adherence to the truth that can save him.
There is an intimate connection between love, death and the truth. It is always death of the loved that leads the way to the truth. It is in mourning that the importance of the truth is recognised. The fanaticism of the truth is presented. I have a slight hesitation here. I wonder that it is not recognised as being troubling. After all, the concept of ‘the truth’ has been politically for the wrong ends in terms of history. However, the key message of the movie is powerful: “If you are with (the) truth, then until you gain the victory you should not accept defeat” (agar aap saach ke saath ho, toh aap ko jeetnein tak haar nahein maan nee chahiyein). I put ‘the’ in brackets because there is none in the Hindi language and it may change the meaning of the message. There is also a tension, because ‘satyakam’ is ‘the believer in truth’, which suggests that adherence to the truth is a question of belief, not certainty. So perhaps the movie could be about following one’s own truth (incidentally, I have just read some theory criticising the separation of power and truth in the West. Perhaps India should try to be different when it propagates the myth of their separation).
The movie is also about the familialisation of the public, an important theme in Hindi cinema. The rhetoric in India is that you relate women to your own mothers, sisters and daughters in order not to oppress them. This is a constant theme in the movie, voiced by all of the good characters, including Ajay himself. The movie also explores the continuity between poor family practices and the raising of children and the detrimental effects they can have on public life. There is a good message voiced by one of the good characters in relation to this in the family context: “The world is won by morals, not by the ego” (sanskaar se sansaar jeetaan jaata hai, ahenkaar se nahein). Religion plays a powerful role in the film, of course.
I had some trouble swallowing the political message of Satyakam, inscribed on the wall of mourning: It is not society. It is not the system. It is you. (at least, that’s what I remember of it). However, the message is apt in that we should always seek to change ourselves – change starts with just one person as my mother told me today. The plausibility of the film wasn’t good, but the emotional effects of the implausible were powerful and therefore completely justified. Indian cinema, thankfully, is not about so-called realism.
The movie is therefore filled with positive social messages, especially an emphasis on how daughters can make someone a better person – daughters, needless to say, as every Indian knows, are traditionally devalued in India.
The photography of the film was spectacular. The fragmented lives of different people, presented in fragmented shots, were slowly put together like a jigsaw puzzle. I have already mentioned the stunning aerial photography. Some of the special effects in the movie were mind-blowing, creating indelible impressions.
The weak points of the movie for me were that Ajay didn’t have enough screen time. At the speech, for example, I wanted a long, powerful talk. It didn’t materialise. Besides the monologues, the dialogues weren’t as powerful as in the first movie. Like I said, Indian cinema has changed a lot since my youth. The fighting action was good and gritty, but I wanted more heightening here. One of the standout moments in the first movie is when Ajay makes ready with his dagger and frightens the bad guy, who drops his gun and runs. There isn’t a signature moment like this in terms of the fighting. Ajay is changed, as we can see from the ending of the movie, which makes a poor comparison with the first, showing our hero in a hospital bed instead of as the victor (although of course, this emphasises his ‘wounding’ and its meaning – it is the wound of the truth).
I enjoyed the movie very much. The expectations that I had of it were huge, but ultimately, it is a satisfying film and I really hope that Sunny Deol, the hero of the movie, is coming back with a vengeance to deliver more good films.