The Ghost Movie Review: High on body count, low on originality
Praveen Sattaru’s ambitious foray into a violent action territory shows traces of promise but is ultimately let down by the artificiality it is wrapped in
2022 seems to be the year of swashbuckling spies, guns, and dead kids. While watching The Ghost it is hard to shake off the memories of Vikram and Beast in multiple instances. Similarities to one of these films should be leading to enjoyable results, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case here. Every time we feel the film shows some promise, we are almost immediately given a reality check and told to keep our expectations under control. We keep rooting for the film to go a notch higher but it keeps refusing.
Director: Praveen Sattaru
Cast: Nagarjuna, Sonal Chouhan, Gul Panag, Anikha Surendran
Nagarjuna plays an Interpol officer named Vikram (his first film in 1986 was named Vikram, allow me to remind you) and he is introduced in an Arabian desert, taking down a battalion of a suspicious, unnamed group of militants. He is joined by Priya (Sonal Chouhan) and together they wipe the hell out of the bad guys. They take down the last man and instantaneously begin kissing as the action sequence segues into a romantic montage song that plants information about Vikram’s struggles with trauma and his dear relationship with his adopted family. It is a bit jarring and it assures you to gain momentum. The actual action begins—or you think so—after the song when Vikram and Priya are on a mission to rescue a kid from a bunch of kidnappers. It starts with an uninspiring chase and ends with a tragedy, propelling Vikram to take down the whole underworld. When the film’s title appears, we are brimming with excitement, but the pleasure is only momentary with our curiosity being put to rest almost immediately with a text, ‘5 years later’. What happened to Vikram’s rage and the mission he set out on? We have to wait for that. This, I believe, is the biggest problem with the film: its refusal to focus on the amusement—violence and action—and insistence to meander on a rather generic plotline for an excessive runtime.
We hope to see Vikram hunt down thugs of the underworld in style, but before we get to that, we have to sit through a painfully long and generic set-up that features the protagonist double up as a guardian for his sister-like Anu (Gul Panag) and her reckless daughter Adithi (Anika Surendran). The conflict is not just bad guys after their lives but boardroom politics too. I would be lying if I say I wasn’t reminded of Trivikram’s recent films where the conflict is all about shares and stocks in a company. These portions of the film make you restless to see the action we signed up for.
When the film eventually enters the action zone in the final 35 minutes, it is entertaining, despite lacking inventiveness. The reveal about the origin of Vikram’s sobriquet, 'The Ghost’ is strongly reminiscent of the Babayaga story from John Wick (2014). It is a concerned father warning his son about the repercussions of the grave mistake the latter has committed in both films. The highly hyped-up Katana sword is put to terrific effect here with dozens of glorious kills in the second half. The final 30 minutes of the film, suffused with bodies, blood, knives and guns, serve as a much-needed departure from the generic-ness that pervaded the set-up and the pay-off is indeed a treat to behold.
Dharmendra Kakarala’s editing complements the action choreography by Dinesh Subbarayan and Kecha Khamphadkee superbly in the effective flashback sequence, collectively infusing energy into the overall mood. Mukesh G’s choice to punctuate red in an action sequence—featuring a blood red moon—set in a boat with neon lighting, darkness, and silhouettes in other action sequences lend a wonderful style to the whole origin story. The wide image of a hooded man holding a sword in the rain while dozens kneel before him, begging for mercy, is perhaps the best frame in the film. I wish The Ghost was actually about… the ghost and less about Vikram and boardroom politics.
The action sequences are delightfully violent—bodies are chopped into pieces with the sword, a thug is beheaded and then his head is shot, making it explode like a watermelon, and there are countless headshots—and almost rescue the film. However, I wish there was a stronger purpose to the action here. The climactic action sequence, set in a church, is superbly shot but you can’t help but wonder about the futility of the whole sequence. The need for action and violence is barely registered, reducing the sequence to a deliberately crafted set-piece for the sake of spectacle.
While we naturally accept to suspend our disbelief when we walk into a movie theatre, The Ghost expects a tad too much from us, barely trying to care for the reality. Physics is secondary; it is fine if the hero dodges all the hundreds of bullets. Emotions are primary; shouldn’t a person who is raging with sadness and anger at least attempt to take a shot at someone when he is in a position to, instead of waiting for the hero to finish off every man standing? Such glaring direction errors break the interest the film just managed to grab from us.
If there’s someone in the cast who gets the best deal after Nagarjuna, it is Sonal Chouhan, who puts up a surprisingly effective show in the action sequences. She is believable and moreover, not once does her character seek help from the man here. She always saves herself and others. Sad that she couldn't save the whole film though.
The Ghost is, in a way, a quintessential revenge drama that’s packaged with the flourishes of a modern-day actioner. To rehash a classic review line—just like the film is a rehash of many films—The Ghost is an old bullet in a new gun. It could have been what Vikram was to Kamal Haasan, but ends up being what Beast was to Vijay.