Split Screen: MEMENTO (2000) & GHAJINI (2008)
“Split Screen” will attempt to analyze some films with the source material that they have been inspired by, while providing some insight into both of the works, to determine whether the adaptation was successful or not. The realm of these films contain comic book movies, remakes, book adaptations, and any other movies that have been directly inspired by another piece of work.”
Today’s Split Screen takes a look at two movies that are exactly the same in concept and story, while being made in the film industries of two different countries, in two different languages. I take a look at MEMENTO (2000) from Hollywood and compare it to GHAJINI (2008) from Bollywood.
Director A.R Murugadoss made GHAJINI 8 years after MEMENTO, and he claims that he had only heard about the story of MEMENTO’s main character, and wrote his screenplay with a similar character, without actually watching original film itself. Just a story to avoid accusations of plagiarism, or fact, is up for debate. But the differences in how the Bollywood version is treated do lend some credibility to his story. It’s also worthy to note that the same Indian director initially made a regional version of this film in South India of the same name in 2005, with a different lead actor, before bringing it to mainstream Bollywood. This analysis will feature the 2008 Hindi Language version.
Synopsis & Similarities
Both MEMENTO & GHAJINI feature a main character that suffers from a unique memory loss condition. After a traumatic injury, they are unable to form any long-term memories, while still remembering everything up until the accident. On top of this condition, both characters are trying to find the man responsible for the death of their lover, the incident that caused their memory loss in the first place. This is what both the movies are essentially about, despite being told in completely different ways.
Both Characters also use a Polaroid camera, hand written notes and essentially condition themselves through rigorous routine to live life with meticulous care and borderline obsessive-compulsive tendencies. They both even have self-made tattoos to remind themselves of the more necessary and urgent, ‘need to know’ information, considering that their memory resets every few minutes. MEMENTO however, goes a step further and shows us the process used by the character to tattoo himself, something that GHAJINI omits entirely, most likely due to the sensibility of an Indian audience in witnessing something so graphic.
Direction & Deviations
The execution of two similar stories is where both movies differ greatly. MEMENTO was revolutionary for its unique and innovative story telling technique of having the entire film happen backwards. Meaning that the last scene of the story is shown in the beginning of the movie, and the rest of the movie consists of small scenes leading up to it, in reverse order. It’s a complete and utter mindfuck. Director Christopher Nolan’s narrative technique is relevant to the story as this method to makes the audience go through what the main character of Leonard must feel every time he loses his memory, and has to work backwards from his surroundings to determine where he is and what he’s doing, sometimes to hilarious effect. It also keeps the audience in the dark about how events played out in the beginning of Leonard’s story, before he manipulated events and sent himself, and the audience, on a wild goose chase.
MEMENTO’s greatest achievement, beyond the non-linear narrative, was it’s even more mind blowing ending. The last scene of the filim, (and first in chronological sequence of events) expose that Leonard has been searching for his wife’s killer for a long time now, and many times now he has found and killed someone he believes is the killer, through conclusions he arrives at himself. Meaning the story we’ve been watching during the course of the movie, Leonard’s search for the bad guy, has happened multiple times before. But since he is never able to actually remember his vengeance being completed, he manipulates his own memory loss, to keep sending himself on a wild goose chase of a fictitious killer, to prevent him from accepting the reality of his wife’s death, the cause of which also becomes ambiguously interpretive by the end of the film. So there is no bad guy anymore, only Leonard’s need to keep looking for one.
While GHAJINI is a pretty linear story that follows a certain sequence of events, and ends with a typically happy ending, which provides closure for the audience, something which MEMENTO intentionally foregoes. A more straightforward Bollywood movie, full of commercially mainstream elements that made it a massive box office success is what GHAJINI was intended to be. The story in the beginning is told through flashbacks that detail the initial love story between the lead character of Sanjay and his murdered lover, played wonderfully by Asin in her debut film. This part of the film is full of cheesy songs and other Bollywood staples. The story is told in chronological order, complete with a, somewhat, emotionally happy ending. It’s not as groundbreaking a concept as MEMENTO, however, it fit the story that Director A. R Murugadoss wanted to tell.
MEMENTO throws the audience for a loop with it’s incredibly effective twist ending, but GHAJINI gives us an actual villain, an actual bad guy whom Sanjay must track down, and avenge the death of his lover through. Again, it’s a completely cheesy happy ending, but it was consistent with the rest of GHAJINI’s emotionally sweet and heart warming story. GHAJINI follows the traditional Bollywood formula of introducing us to like-able and charming characters, some light humour, a love story… then flipping the status quo into a more violent and action packed story, driven my emotional turmoil ,which ultimately brings closure to the main character’s story arc.
Performances & Portrayals
Both movies rely entirely on the shoulders of their leading men. MEMENTO has one of the finer character actors in Hollywood of his generation, Guy Pearce playing Leonard. Pearce’s (now) patented dry wit and sarcasm is on full display in this role as he plays a man who rarely remembers what he’s doing, while he’s doing it, and his voice over during each scene is as funny as it is intense. Leonard constantly attempting to understand and retracing his steps, confused about his next move is as funny as it is chilling in some moments, especially considering when he’s manipulated unknowingly by other characters, namely Joey Pantoliano & Carrie-Anne Moss in a wonderfully cruel performance.
Guy Pearce’s portrayal of the amnesiac is subtler as he’s accepted his condition and has learnt to work around it, and it’s more what happens during the story of the movie, that drives his performance. Whereas the opposite is true of GHAJINI.
Legendary Indian actor Aamir Khan portrays the role of Sanjay, and his performance is one area where GHAJINI actually improves upon its predecessor, MEMENTO. Khan’s performance is nowhere near as stoic or somber as Pearce’s. Khan plays the role with a severe gravitas and dramatic flair, which at times is overdone, but with reason. The actor himself completely restructured his body for the role, gaining massive amounts of muscle. Everything from his over all look and constant sourpuss expression was overdone to be physically intimidating and scary, portraying a man with nothing to lose and one singular purpose.
The best scene of GHAJINI is a montage scene where Sanjay awakes happy and rested, only to slowly discover, through his own tattoos and notes, that the woman he loves has been violently killed months ago… and the emotional gauntlet he goes through… is pure cinematic genius. It’s even more gut wrenching when one realizes that, given his memory always resets to before the murder of his lover, it’s a routine that he most probably goes through every morning. That sort of graphic emotional turmoil wasn’t shown in MEMENTO, and I think it was very effective to get the audience into the desperate and chaotic mindset of how a person with this condition must feel on a regular basis.
MEMENTO, best classified as a thriller, brought to the limelight the acting prowess of Guy Pearce and forever cemented into history the future legendary status of Director Christopher Nolan and writer Jonathan Nolan. Nolan’s unique storytelling concept showed the world something that they never have before, and his movies since have invoked similarly iconic reactions.
GHAJINI, a more romantic action story was a major box office success, and proved once again that unconventional stories in Bollywood do work. But more importantly, Aamir Khan’s yearlong dedication to the role by completely restructuring his physique and taking on the look of a body builder, broke all conventions of an actor’s commitment to a movie role, and raised the bar for an Indian actor quite significantly.
GHAJINI was a very good attempt at an Indianized version of MEMENTO, even being able to improve upon some small aspects of the original. Despite the songs and other campy and exaggerated Bollywood elements, GHAJINI was a very entertaining film. However, MEMENTO’s insanely amazing narrative flow and mind fuckable execution of a movie experienced backwards, sets it apart on its own from any remake or inspiration.