Ghayal (Rajkumar Santoshi, 1990)
Hulk get MAD.
If you are going to see a single Sunny Deol film in your lifetime, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it should be Ghayal. Not Gadar, the 2001 superhit that remains to this day Sunny’s most successful box office release; not Damini, the film which forever inextricably linked Sunny to dialogues like “tarikh pe tarikh…”, but Ghayal, the film that relaunched Sunny after a string of mildly unsuccessful films in the 1980s, and simultaneously reinvented the Hindi action hero as substantial and relevant.
Ghayal will BLOW YOU AWAY (ouch tasteless joke).
You know it MUST be good when someone who a) wasn’t much of a Sunny Deol fan to begin with and b) didn’t much care about action films now counts Ghayal in her top films of all-time, ever, and immediately after watching this, went on a Sunny Deol film ordering spree.
Now you know how my crazy Bollywood obsessions begin.
Actually, they start HERE: add " Extremely Attractive Macho Deol" IN BOW TIE AND SUSPENDERS to my existing obsession with Hindi film songs featuring BALLOONS AND GLITTER and I'm pretty much hooked for life. Hooked on Sunny Deol.
Ghayal (The Wounded) opens with Ajay (Sunny Deol) in jail, refusing to speak. Worn down by the constant pleas of his cellmates, he finally tells his story, and through an extended flashback we learn how he came to be wrongly imprisoned for his brother’s murder.
A bigwig businessman – Balwant Rai (Amrish Puri) is the one actually responsible for the murder, plus a long list of other misdeeds – drug smuggling, blackmailing, the whole shebang – and is involved in a conspiracy with both the courts and members of the police to keep Ajay in jail for the murder Balwant himself is responsible for.
The ORIGINAL CRAZY EYES! A most unsympathetic villain!
Ajay and his cellmates break out of jail – and Ajay, appalled at the failure of the justice system and the corruption and evil present in supposedly ‘good’ men, goes on a rage-filled vengeance spree, hunting down and killing everyone implicated in the conspiracy around the murder of his brother and his own wrongful imprisonment.It sounds lurid, but is actually awesome, driven by a desire to right the balance of justice in society and root out moral decay, rather than just...killing for the sake of awesome action sequences.
I'll say it again (because I really resisted watching this for ages, thinking, "Ugh, Rambo-like thug, mindless action, ugh" and other BASELESS PRECONCEPTIONS): Ghayal – clearly a revenge tale – differs from the pulpy action tackoramas preceding it in that it has a very relevant, very clearly broadcast social message woven deeply throughout.
This isn’t just a tale about Ajay getting bloody revenge on the man who killed his brother; it’s about questioning the state of India’s corrupt justice system, and taking action (very literally) to change things.
One of the dramatic ironies of Ghayal: people take to the streets in protest at Ajay's violent rampage, citing that the "the killers are rulers" - unaware that the police and politicians they trust as rulers are the actual killers.
I was almost going to write “it’s about despairing at the state of the justice system” until I thought better of it. I don’t think this film is pessimistic – I’ll probably address it a bit more when I talk about Bardaasht, but there is definitely a subtle sense of optimism to Ghayal. Om Puri’s character is partial evidence of this. He plays the one policeman on Ajay's case who is NOT corrupt, who figures out the tangled chain of events and eventually realizes Ajay is not guilty of the original crime he was jailed for, but that the lack of justice has MADE him into a criminal.
Om Puri. Is just. SO GOOD.
Not only does this character represent hope for change within a corrupt system; but he represents hope for Ajay – even after Ajay turns into a murderous renegade, living outside the (corrupt) law, we can still view him as an essentially good person who has been forced to do some horrible things. Unlike Balwant Rai and the corrupt officials, he is not inherently bad.
Not surprisingly, Ghayal won several awards, and garnered Sunny Deol serious critical recognition for the first time in his career – the film won a prestigious National Award, while Sunny won a Filmfare Best Actor Award for his performance (an award which has eluded both father Dharmendra and brother Bobby). This really is one of the most satisfying films I have watched in a long while – between the weighty themes, a powerhouse performance from Sunny (that showcases serious dramatic chops as well as his sweet, softer, comedic side in the lengthy flashback at the start) and the ample action, there’s a lot going for it.
Including, obviously, this:
Keep your eyes peeled - pretty sure there's a screencap of Dharmendra in an IDENTICAL swoonworthy pose coming up later this month on this very blog. Minus the BEEEEEFCAKE.
The notes I made for this film end on this typical, hilarious, note:
“Sunny Deol = without chest or armpit hair would be half the man”.