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  • Writer's pictureS.K. Chishty

Review: Ghayal: Once Again (2016)

Updated: Aug 10, 2020

Buried under confusion is a potentially good film.

Ghayal (1990) was a turning point not only in Sunny Deol’s career. It reversed his dwindling box-office reputation and established him as the new brawny angry young man who fights his wars by going against the entire system.

There is another reason why Ghayal was important.

It was the era of love stories and Ghayal was released alongside Indra Kumar’s Aamir Khan-Madhuri Dixit massive hit ‘Dil’ that has very popular songs too. Sunny Deol’s film, directed by the debutant Rajkumar Santoshi, held its own and proved that the audience does not prefer a certain genre, they just want to watch a well-made film.

Many years later, Deol’s long-gestating sequel to the film was finally out in 2016.

The most striking thing about the film is that Sunny Deol has actually taken pains to contemporize its tone to make it ‘youth-centric’. Instead of Sunny Deol himself in the lead, the screen is shared by newcomers… initially, at least. It is also surprising (and admirable) that Deol, whose later career is rife with pop-patriotism hits decided to throw out the jingoism. This is an effort to appeal to a wider audience.

Deol’s intentions to keep a young cast as a catalyst for the story seems inspired by the popularity of Rang De Basanti, where a revolt by a young group of students against corrupt politicians is juxtaposed with Indian freedom struggle. But while that film had those students as their main protagonists, here, the youth exists simply to make a platform for the film’s star and director to take over. Sunny Deol’s attitude towards the students is apparent by the fact that they are referred throughout as “bachche” (kids) - sometimes even by the people who are trying to kill them.

Even if one ignores the unintentionally hilarious introduction of Ajay Verma and his mental problems (apparently he has been in a psychiatry ward due to a nervous break down he suffered when his wife and daughter died), the central problem of this film arises from Deol’s confusion about what he wants to present Ajay Mehra as an honest and courageous journalist or an outlaw superhero-type action hero who actually has a tunnel beneath his offices where he kidnaps important people to get confessions out of them in order to expose them. Like many ideas in this film, even this one has potential, but like everything, the execution is shoddy and unconvincing.

This film has Dan Bradley, the stunt coordinator of Hollywood films such as The Bourne Ultimatum, Spider-Man 2 & 3, and most recently, Ad Astra making his Indian debut. Out of the never-ending and improbably staged chase scenes in the malls the one that stands out is the one on the road. Our hero and the foreign mercenary employed by Bansal square it off on the trafficked roads of Mumbai and continuing their dueling on the trains. Nothing new here, per se but it is well orchestrated and sharply edited. It is also here that Deol reminds us that there is a lot of good work and ambition in him. The scene where an emotional Ajay Verma explains to his wife (Soha Ali Khan) how Joe was killed alone hints the trauma the man hides. It is an instant connection to the loss that he suffered in the first film that no amount of flashbacks can achieve. But these sparks are rare.

If there is one thing that, for me, that Ghayal: Once Again shows some courage is the portrayal of its main antagonists.

The family behind the murder of the now-retired policeman Joe (Om Puri, reprising his role from the previous film), is almost God-like in stature. There is a comment at the beginning that nothing happens in the government without their approval and, get this, they live in a multiple story building that strikingly resembles Antilla! This must be for the first time (that I can remember, at least) that such an explicit portrayal of the owner of Mukesh Ambani has been staged. Of course, the names have been changed, we have Raj Bansal replacing the owner of one of the largest Indian conglomerate Reliance (portrayed by an over-excited Narendra Jha) but the details given are too obvious to miss. It was rumored that Ambani’s son was involved in a road accident. The news of which was allegedly suppressed. Here Raj Bansal is trying to retrieve a hard drive which has the video of his son shooting the unarmed ex-cop in the presence of a Minister.

But the bite is taken away from this potentially interesting prospect by two things: The execution of the entire thing is preposterous. Bansal runs around screaming directions in his home and his wife (a wasted Tisca Chopra) follows him around in expensive jewelry. The only dose of some realism comes from Bansal’s mother, the veteran stage actor Nadira Zaheer Babbar who delivers her lines effectively.

Secondly, in the light of the fact that the film has been produced by Reliance Entertainment, the company of Mukesh Ambani’s younger and estranged brother-cum-rival Anil Ambani, the film’s bravest move of Ajay Verma flying a helicopter into 'Antilla', is merely corporate skullduggery. Or worse: uber-rich sibling brat trying to get even with big brother through cinema.

Note: Some fans have informed me that an Atilla replica met a similar fate in 'Krrish:3". I will review it when I can.

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