When news broke last week that Italian production company AMBI Pictures bought the rights to remake director Christopher Nolan’s twisted breakthrough hit Memento, people reiterated what seemingly everyone but AMBI already knew: That is one terrible idea. Did they, ironically enough, forget that Nolan’s 2000 original was a masterpiece of nonlinear narrative? The movie’s chopped up editing style told the story of Leonard Shelby (played by Guy Pearce), a former insurance fraud investigator with anterograde amnesia searching for the man he thinks raped and killed his wife during a home invasion. To mirror Leonard’s inner turmoil, the film is told in reverse order and interspersed with black-and-white chronological interstitials. The bold idiosyncrasies of Nolan’s knotted neo-noir gained him serious auteur clout, not to mention Oscar noms for writing and editing. Its eccentricities made it seemingly unable to be remade, which was why people were so up in arms over the AMBI acquisition. But what most people don’t know is that Memento already has been remade — or, depending on your perspective, ripped off — twice in India.
Indian filmmaker A.R. Murugadoss directed the Tamil psychological thriller Ghajini in 2005, half a decade after Nolan burst on the scene. For all intents and purposes, it is a remake of Memento that takes place around the coastal Indian city of Chennai. If you’re up for it, you can watch the entire thing below.
If you don’t have time to watch a three-hour movie in Tamil, we can give you the CliffsNotes version. In it, a rich businessman named Sanjay Ramaswamy (played by Indian actor Suriya), who is stricken with anterograde amnesia after his wife is killed by a gangster named Lakshman (Pradeep Rawat) in a violent attack, sets out to find the killer for revenge. Much like Memento’s Leonard Shelby, Sanjay covers himself in tattoos and constantly annotates the Polaroid photos he takes to remember potential key information he needs to remember who his wife’s killer is. All of the hallmarks of Nolan’s movie are there, with the main character’s amnesia driving — or complicating — the plot.
Fortunately for Murugadoss, who still asserts that his film isn’t a remake of Memento at all, that’s where most of the concrete similarities end. Nolan apparently isn’t a fan of being ripped off, allegedly telling Indian superstar actor Anil Kapoor, “I heard one of my films has been copied.” In the same interview on Indian TV, Kapoor related that Nolan was “very upset” about Ghajini’s amnesiac-based subject matter that bore a striking similarity to his own film.
But maybe Nolan didn’t watch the entire movie. As much as Ghajini resembles Memento based on plot, the execution is vastly different. Sanjay’s story involves a medical student named Chitra (played by actress Nayantara) who stumbles upon his story and seeks to find more about him. She, along with a police officer (played by Riyaz Khan), is then swept up into the series of related killings Sanjay is responsible for on his way to killing Lakshman.
Ghajini is very much an action movie, turning Sanjay into a sort of unstoppable madman with superhuman strength as he offs Lakshman’s henchmen. Whereas Leonard is a lone wolf piecing his story together, Sanjay is a freight train barreling through the movie with Chitra, and only near the end does the reason for his mania become clear. It turns out, Lakshman was actually a human trafficker who was found out by Sanjay’s wife Kalpana, whom Lakshman promptly kills.
The tough-guy angle may mostly separate Ghajini from Memento, but it does bear a resemblance to Nolan’s movie’s fractured narrative. Hot on Sanjay’s trail, the police inspector reads the supposed cold-blooded killer’s diaries from the past, at which point the movie goes into flashbacks to fill in the blanks. It’s in one of these epistolary flashbacks that we learn of Lakshman’s brutal murder of Kalpana, and how Sanjay became an amnesiac. The other thing that really separates Ghajini from Memento is its hopelessly cheesy string score, which contrasts against the minimalism of the original.
The second remake from 2008 (which you can also watch above in full) is a bit of a cheat. Murugadoss simply took his Tamil movie, and remade it in Hindi under the same name. Suriya was replaced by Hindi actor Aamir Khan to play Sanjay, whose surname was changed to Singhania in this iteration. Slight changes were made, including the climax of the movie and some different casting, but what makes the Hindi Ghajini fascinating is the excuse Khan and Murugadoss made when defending it against accusations of plagiarism.
Khan justified it by saying, “Ghajini is not a remake or even slightly inspired by Hollywood flick Memento, but it’s a remake of Tamil film Ghajini. Eighty percent of the film is a remake of Tamil version, while the climax for the Hindi version has been changed a bit because the director wanted it to look fresh.” So in essence, he’s saying it’s not a remake because it’s a remake. But he also admitted, “Murugadoss had heard about a film called Memento and the concept had really fascinated him. Without having seen the film he went ahead and wrote his own version of the script and screenplay. Having finished his script he then saw Memento, found it very different from what he had written, and went ahead and made Ghajini.”
So maybe AMBI is remaking Ghajini and not the Memento we all know. We’re fairly certain that would be a much better idea than outright remaking Nolan’s gem. Anybody other than Christopher Nolan making Memento is something we should forget about.