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Sunday, June 20, 2021


A trip down memory lane


"Ghajini" has been one of the year's most awaited films. We deconstruct this psychologial action thriller that promises to give the term 'The stuff memories are made of' a whole new meaning
TSI | Issue Dated: January 4, 2009
Tags : Ghajini | PSYCHOLOGICAL ACTION | Dr Keshavan | Apollo Hospital | neurosurgeons | amnesia | Anterograde amnesia | medical phenomenon | protagonist | mind themed | I Am Sam | Awakenings | Rain Man | debilitating | physical handicap | software engineer | AR Murugadoss | Anterograde amnesia | Surya | Aamir Khan | Memento | Ghajini |Tareque Laskar | Daulat Ki Jung | pedestrian flick | photographic memory | Bourne Series | 50 First Dates | beacon | scientific correctness | Christopher Nolan | insurance claims investigator | Guy Pearce | Stanford Memory Lab | Don | scientific inconsistencies | non-realistic representation | Matt Damon | Salman Khan |
A trip down memory lane FIRST AMONG EQUALS

His performance (in the Tamil original) impressed Aamir Khan enough to reprise the act in Hindi. Surya, named one of the sexiest men in India by People, recollects his "Ghajini" experience in an exclusive conversation with Neha Sarin…

How did you prepare for your role in "Ghajini"? What all did your research constitute?

Initially, I did not commit to this project because of the medical conditions involved. Of course, the flash cuts to the past and the reality was very interesting. It was in the second half of the shooting when I really got into the character – a friend of mine, Dr Keshavan at Apollo Hospital, helped me with access to a library of video files. I got permission to discuss cases with neurosurgeons and they showed me how patients behaved post-operation, from the way they sit to how they reacted to situations.

Did the project ever take you close to a real patient?

Not really, it was all very theoretical for me. I didn’t meet anyone in person. This character I played couldn’t be as slow as an ordinary patient; he was a strong guy and he had revenge on his mind. We wanted to essentially capitalise on the amnesia part of it.

If you were suffering from Anterograde amnesia, do you think revenge would have been on your mind?

It was a little more than just a medical phenomenon in the movie. The protagonist is not a regular-patient type, for we show him as a person who is not weak and who is able to carry on with what he has on his mind. We portray him like he was a very special case to study. So in this film, revenge was possible, but in real life, I guess a lot of bad experiences one goes through can only go away with time. So at times forgetfulness helps.

Sometimes you don’t get a cure; you can’t reason out, you don’t have a solution, and then it so happens that you get your answer only as time passes by. Slowly, you let it go and you don’t want to be reminded of it again!

Any memory or mind themed movie(s) that you have particularly liked or been inspired by?

My all time favourites are "I Am Sam", "Awakenings" and "Rain Man".

How forgetful are you in real life? What is your method of reminding yourself of important occasions or events? 

A trip down memory lane I am very forgetful! My memory doesn’t even stay for 15 seconds (laughs). I simply forget where I left my cell phone or my keys. However, ever since my daughter came along, my reaction time lag has gone down! My daughter has managed to change me...

What do you think is more debilitating – memory loss or physical handicap?

I think memory loss. With physical handicap, you are still in your senses; you can achieve whatever you want to. When your mind says you can and if you have the drive, they say nothing is impossible. There are a lot of examples proving that around the world.

I really feel sad with the idea of memory loss. Actually, I did meet a patient, a software engineer from south, a jet-setting professional who had settled in the US. One day she was getting out of the mall when she was hit by a car at 140 miles/hr…she got multiple fractures in her body and also lost her memory. Her family helped her with notes, photos all over her room; she doesn’t even remember her own husband and her daughter. Sometimes, she becomes a different person and hears the noise of traffic. I met her and gave her the same camera I use in "Ghajini".

Besides, when people get old, the memory is affected; they keep repeating things, and forget that they mentioned it at all… it’s kinda sad… In fact, much of our young generation is impatient with such suffering elders. I think we need to spend good quality time with our parents when they age. A trip down memory lane FROM THE DIRECTOR’S MEMORY

AR Murugadoss, director of "Ghajini" (Tamil and Hindi), takes us through the making…

What kind of research did you do on the medical condition of Anterograde amnesia?

We collected a lot of information from the Internet. I met Dr Keshavan from Apollo Hospital in Chennai. He explained about the activities of short term memory loss patients and showed me some video clips of the same.

How did you explain the condition to Surya and Aamir Khan?

I showed the same video clips to Surya. With information from doctors, I designed the mannerisms of the character. I made Surya bring in a lot of variety in terms of body language and dialogue delivery etc. I wanted the hero to always look restless and suspicious of anything or anybody he sees. The character never spoke much. For the Hindi "Ghajini", since I had worked on the subject already, it was easy to prepare Aamir Khan for the role. "Ghajini" seems to be inspired from "Memento", but there is a very original twist to "Ghajini". Would you want to comment on the difference? Except the character of a short-term memory loss patient, there is nothing that is inspired by the film "Memento". One who sees both "Memento" and "Ghajini" will be able to make out how different "Ghajini" is from "Memento."

Between Aamir and Surya, who was more forgetful on the sets?

The big irony is both Aamir and Surya are very good with their memory!

What does "Ghajini" mean?

This is one of the important elements in the movie. So, I’m not going to reveal that now. You will come to know when you see the movie.

You chose to stick to some elements of the Tamil version, while some others are different in the Hindi movie. Like the same lead heroines, but not the same hero; same titles, different music directors etc. Why so?

No particular reason. I was excited to work with great technicians, but at the same time I didn’t want to miss the good elements from the original. A trip down memory lane MEMORY @ 24 FRAMES PER SECOND

Tareque Laskar takes a quick tour of the memorable and the forgettable in terms of 'memory' on the movie screen…

In the early 90s there was "Daulat Ki Jung", a pedestrian flick where Aamir Khan played a character with photographic memory, an advantage he leverages while on a treasure hunt. Exactly 17 years later, we have Aamir Khan again in "Ghajini", another film where the protagonist is trying to manipulate his memory albeit to avenge a murder while battling Anterograde amnesia. Memory has always been a popular plot device and while research on memory remains hazy at best, that hasn’t stopped its (mis)interpretation on celluloid. We have had assassins forget who they are, but retain their killing instinct (the Bourne Series) or even a dedicated lover taking his true love, who suffers from short term memory loss, out for "50 First Dates"!

Hollywood, not always a beacon of scientific correctness on the silver screen, has its share of movies toying around with the subject. Of the more brilliant efforts, one has been "Memento", directed by Christopher Nolan, based on a short story by his brother Jonathan, which tells the story of an insurance claims investigator who acquires the condition after a brutal assault in which his wife is killed. It was a devilishly devised storytelling technique – the movie played out backwards in chronology – that added to the viewers ‘getting into’ the mind frame of the protagonist, Leonard (played by Guy Pearce). Dr Anthony Wagner, from the Stanford Memory Lab says, “While "Memento" has a few factual errors here and there, on the whole it is one of the most compelling movies in terms of accurately considering the fact that memory is reconstructed rather than being a videotape of your life that is played back.”

Most of Bollywood’s memory plots have been kitschy (think "Don" or the countless other ‘main kahaan hoon?’ scenes you can recall!), usually centering on retrograde amnesia. “Memory loss is typically depicted in movies much as it is in soap-operas namely, as a retrograde amnesia. A bump on the head and the main character wakes up in the hospital, failing to remember who he or she is” says Dr Wagner.

There are scientific inconsistencies galore (Here’s Dr Wagner’s take, “In the movies, this depiction of pure retrograde amnesia with absolutely no Anterograde amnesia is a non-realistic representation of changes that occur.”), whether you are watching Matt Damon in the Bourne Series or Salman Khan in "Tumko Na Bhool Payenge", partly out of ignorance and partly plot convenience. "Memento" may have been a movie very well done on both artistic and scientific levels but sadly, not enough movies about memory and its maladies are, ahem, memorable. THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

A quick take on memory on celluloid

"MEMENTO" (2000): The narrative structure will rattle inside your head long after you’ve switched the DVD player off!

"50 FIRST DATES" (2004): Drew Barrymore’s ‘I can’t remember anything about last night’ antics were a bit stretched, but Adam Sandler’s wooing was rather cute.

"SAILAAB" (1990): Messed up murder mystery further messed up by a bout of amnesia. The only image that’ll stick to your memory is Madhuri Dixit in the sizzling lavani item number. So what if she is a doctor?
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017