Ghayal Once Again – that’s an awkward title to write down – begins by recalling Ajay Mehra’s (Sunny Deol) famous story that ushered in the 90s Bollywood. What the 80s meant and stood for, as far as popular cinema is concerned, was still debatable then as it is now. Butt it wasn’t new ground for Sunny Deol even if Ghayal spawned many such stories through the 90s. Sunny Deol had already done Arjun with Rahul Rawail, another man fighting the system in his own ways. The Ajays and Arjuns were only natural offspring of the Angry Young Man from the 70s but with Ghayal that man eschewed the battle within and went out all guns blazing quite literally. It may not have been as engaging but such were the times, the 90s and not the more volatile 70s, we lapped it up.
It is 2016 and we have another Ghayal, now written and directed by Sunny Deol himself. The opening shot has aerial views of Mumbai with its new metro running side by side with the local trains. Perhaps it is Deol insisting that even if 2016 gives you all the multiplex films, my cinema from the 90s can co-exist? The shot finally comes to rest on a Mumbai skyline jeweled by what is an incompetent game of Jenga (cannot take credit, I think several people have made this joke) or also called Antilla, the Mukesh Ambani residence. That is what it is in the real world but in this film it is the residence of Raj Bansal (Narendra Jha), the Balwant Rai of this sequel, a businessman both cunning in his ways and clueless about his family and privilege. At one point he questions not his son’s action of killing someone in cold blood but the rage behind it. It is hilarious. Also staggering considering Reliance Entertainment is a distributor of the film.
Ajay Mehra in 2015 runs a Tehelka like expose focused media network called – wait for it – Satyakam. If your antenna gets excited and harks back to the Hrishikesh Mukherjee film from the close of the 60s, worry not because it is supposed to. Mostly because it is Sunny Deol misappropriating his underrated father’s lasting legacy and he doesn’t just stop there. His partner – their relationship is never explained – here is Soha Ali Khan, daughter of Sharmila Tagore, the ill-fated wife of Satyapriya (Dharmendra). Nothing wrong with this except that Ajay Mehra’s ways are distinctly Ajay Mehra and far from Satyapriya. It is the 90s after all and the Satyapriyas of the world have perished.
Ghayal Once Again has its moments. The pre-interval stretch whizzes by with us on the edge of the seat. A chase on the road and around a mall revels in its relentlessness and I wondered if it is already this good, how much better it could have been if Raj Kumar Santoshi (the director of the original) was at the helm. He did update the modern version of the Angry Young Man (or Old Man Remembering How To Be Angry?) in the wonderful Khakee. The other great thing about the sequence of events here is what it could have been without an interval block. It is already the best part of the film but it doesn’t really end at the intermission. It may have just lifted the film by a few notches. But what follows is mindless dishoom dishoom and uninspired dialog writing. The bad habits of the 90s again. But is it really mindless? You can knock yourself out reading into the film though. Raj Bansal’s head of security is named Troy. And when his mansion is secured by all of Mumbai Police, Ajay finds Bansal’s own horse to crash into the billion dollar home. For what joy? To save the girl, kidnapped by Bansal and his son. I am not going to say anything about authorial intent.
(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)