The Justice Trilogy – Ghayal

Note: this post is part of a series of posts. Previous post: Introduction

This review contains plot and other spoilers. 

Ghayal is the bleakest movie in the trilogy offering no hope whatsoever to the viewer. The plot follows boxer Ajay Mehra (Sunny Deol) as he searches for his missing brother Ashok (Raj Babbar). A drunken friend of Ashok’s (Annu Kapoor) provides Ajay with information on his brother, which puts him on the trail of corrupt businessman Balwant Rai (Amrish Puri). His brother turns up dead and Ajay is framed and convicted for the murder. The revenge tale forms the third act of the movie and goes by the numbers as Ajay escapes from prison with three other convicts who help him take revenge on Balwant and his cronies.

Observe Santoshi’s love for his characters. Ajay is given the background of a boxer which makes the action and he-man attitude in later scenes a little more plausible to the audience. Or how one of the convicts explains that he came from Kerala to Bombay and how the hardships forced him to a life of crime. One could identify with that. Take the case of police commissioner Ashok Pradhan’s (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) wife (Ashalata Wabgaonkar). She isn’t given a name in the film. In a chance meeting between Ajay and Ashok, she is present at the corner of the frame with no dialogue. Then in a later scene she sympathizes with Ajay even though he holds her captive and terrorizes her family. She is able to do that because she witnessed his plight in that small scene. A thoughtful gesture on the part of Santoshi for her character.

Santoshi has two musical themes recur through the movie. One is an uprising theme to signal Ajay’s anger and revenge (taken from a Hollywood movie). The other is a mournful version of Llorando se fue (which also inspired Lambada) and is used for the flashbacks to the better times present at the start of the film.

The movie portrays such a decadent Bombay that one character,  Indu (Moushumi Chatterjee) the wife of missing Ashok states that they ought to leave the city and start life afresh once her husband comes back. This is a curiously interesting scene. Ajay is frustrated and vents his anger while also confiding to Indu that his brother may be dead. Santoshi has Ajay shirtless and dressing his wounds for the scene. In a traditional Indian sense its a provocative scene for a man to roam in front of his brother’s wife shirtless. By the end of the scene Ajay has his head on Indu’s lap with both in need of consolation. Santoshi pulls back the camera to a top view, playing God. In the next scene, Ajay is seen exiting the bedroom buttoning his shirt with Indu in the background. The relation between the two is chaste and there hasn’t been any consummation, but there is a setup of one. I think, Santoshi is perverting and playing the audience. It may also be a wink from the director as next, the false allegations of an illicit relationship between the two follow and are presented as motive for Ajay killing his brother.

Ajay’s frustration with the system is palpable and it is what the movie is all about.  In Ardh Satya (on which Santoshi worked as an assistant) we see Om Puri struggle with his identity in the police force. The struggle is characterized on the lines of manhood and impotency. Santoshi takes Ghayal even further to poke fun at the impotency. ACP Joe D’souza (Om Puri again) is assigned to protect Balwant from the revenge seeking Ajay. When he learns of Balwant’s true nature, D’souza argues with his senior, but complies after being given assurance that Balwant will be dealt with by the courts. But in that iconic last scene, Ajay kills Balwant right in front of the police mocking their presence. (I guess casting Om Puri was intentional to show us what the character in Ardh Satya would be like if he continued to live in the circle of deceit). Santoshi holds no bars in displaying the ineptness of the police. They fail at helping Ajay find is brother, then fail at keeping Ajay behind bars, they fail at protecting Balwant and to add insult to injury, their commissioner is held ransom right under their noses. We sympathize with Ajay’s frustration, but in scenes bordering on comedy, Santoshi asks us to sympathize with Balwant as he complains about the inefficiency of the police in protecting him. Ghayal is bleak and despairing because it tells you that the system can’t help itself and it certainly can’t help you.

That final scene is what pushes the movie into greatness. Consider the character of Varsha Bharti (Meenakshi Sheshadri). As a press agent (and Ajay’s love interest) she has meager success in helping Ajay’s cause through the press. It is she who provides Ajay with the gun to kill Balwant in that final scene. Is Santoshi telling us that in his universe the sword is mightier than the pen? There is no dearth of revenge films in Indian cinema, but Ghayal belongs to the few that provoke thought.

Next we review: Damini.

Pic credit:
cover photo:,_1990_film.jpg

5 thoughts on “The Justice Trilogy – Ghayal

  1. Love the review, specially how you view the director playing God and letting the scene unfold from His point of view. Aside from justice, I think Ghayal also celebrates the quintessential Bollywood masculinity i.e. brave, strong and morally righteous. Did you see the recent remake of Ghayal? I thought it was a fairly good one, specially since it had to live up to the legacy.


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