Sometimes you wonder why a movie struck such a chord. Ghayal had nothing new by way of plot. Even within the Sunny Deol-verse, Dacait had the same rage-against-the-System narrative arc, and before that, Arjun. But something clicked with Ghayal. Maybe the action felt new. Maybe it was Sunny Deol discovering how to deliver his lines as though army ants had invaded his underwear, a talent he would employ to great acclaim in Damini, a few years later. Maybe it was Sunny Deol’s realisation that uprooting stationary objects (like a witness stand) could be great fun, a talent he would employ to greater acclaim in Gadar: Ek Prem Katha. Maybe it was Amrish Puri and his enemy-annihilating acid vats, something he’d already employed to great acclaim in Mr. India. Or maybe it was just the remixed Lambada song, maybe we had a thing back then for happy Indian families grooving to Latin-American hits.
All of which is to say that I wasn’t exactly rooting for a sequel, especially one that acronyms to GOA. But Ghayal Once Again, directed by Sunny Deol, makes a pretty decent case for its existence. A quarter of a century has passed. Ajay Mehra (Deol) now has a Wiki page. Joe D’Souza (Om Puri), the young, wiry cop on Ajay’s trail in the earlier film, is now a friend, a comrade. They’re part of a radical group named Satyakam. Yes, after the movie that featured Deol’s father, this film’s producer. The intent is the same – the hope for a better society – but the modus operandi is slightly different. I don’t quite recall Dharmendra crashing his helicopter into the building where Sharmila Tagore was being held captive. That happens in Ghayal Once Again. Tagore’s daughter (Soha Ali Khan) plays a doctor here. There’s representation from the Raj Babbar family as well (he played Ajay’s older brother in Ghayal, remember?) – his wife, Nadira, plays the villain’s mother. The film feels like a class reunion. Where’s the Lambada song when you really need it?
Meenakshi Seshadri, though, is missing. She’s there in the flashbacks (from the earlier film), but I wish they’d explained her disappearance more thoughtfully. Whatever happened to her is the reason Ajay is now plagued by nightmares. He’s had electrotherapy. He keeps popping pills. That’s clever. So now, the film doesn’t have to waste time building a new life for Ajay Mehra. He’s still hurting from the old one.
And here’s the fascinating thing. The villain gets the happy family. He’s Raj Bansal (Jeetendra lookalike Narendra Jha), one of those Mukesh Ambani-type tycoons. I didn’t pick that name at random. Raj Bansal lives in a similar high rise, something that looks like a chest of drawers that opened out in all directions. We’re used to movies where the hero’s little daughter has a birthday party, so we begin to empathise with the loving family. But here, Raj Bansal’s daughter has that party. By the standards of villains in these films, Bansal is stunningly normal. He may bend the law to further his fortunes, but there isn’t an acid vat in sight. He’s a father – to that little daughter, to an unhinged son. And he beats himself up over the way the latter has turned out, the way he takes things for granted, with little thought for others. When was the last time you saw a masala-movie villain agonise over failed parenting?
As contrast to the Bansal scion, we get a quartet of idealistic kids (bright, uninhibited performers, each one of them) whose possession of a hard disk gets the plot going. There’s Bansal-related data on it, of course. He wants it back. He sends goons after the kids (and eventually, Ajay Mehra) and we get a series of chases – on foot, on cycles, in cars, on trains. In this mode, the movie really works. It’s relentless. It could have been better had the action been designed by the guys from, say, the Fast & Furious movies – but it’s enough, all the way to the climax in which Raj Bansal’s goons hold out guns, ask Ajay to drop his, and then declare, “We will kill you with our bare hands.” I laughed, but the way we laugh in the Bond movies, where villains, instead of shooting him down, opt for elaborate death rituals that give him time to end up alive.
And how is Sunny Deol in one of his signature roles? In one scene, he screams so hard his face turns red – it’s as if someone turned on an infra-red lamp. But that’s lung power, not performance. Looking at him, we see why Ghayal feels dated while the Bachchan vigilante movies still have the power to surprise us. After a while, it’s not the action – it’s the acting. Deol just cannot play emotional scenes convincingly. But at least he looks as if he can move mountains with a single hand, and that’s really what this film needs.
- ghayal = wounded; hurt
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