Repression in Ghajini and Kaala Pathar
The interesting thing about Ghajini is that even though the protagonist loses his memory the emotional trace survives and this is what enables him to reconstruct his memory every single day. There is something about this idea that also feeds into an older masala paradigm (remember how often those films were concerned with loss of memory!) of trauma and repression. What is repressed might be forgotten in a very conscious sense but the ‘economics’ of the mind makes an absolute ‘forgetting’ definitionally impossible*.
I am reminded of Kaala Pathar (where even if the story was inspired from Conrad’s Lord Jim**, the substitution of the Dhanbad coal mines for the Malayan jungles was a good stroke). The final reckoning comes about in the ‘cave’ (mines) where Bachchan must deal conclusively with all of his ghosts (much as all the films other strands finally converge here.. this was a film much ahead of its times.. the central ‘character’ in the narrative is the physical setting of the film and it is the coal mines that connect all the relatively disparate strands of the film.. this is a remarkable move.. the only ‘unity’ in the story is brought about by a certain ‘site’). Here of course the trauma is remembered all too well, all too often and yet it is nonetheless repressed in another sense which is why it returns to Bachchan only as nightmare. But Bachchan must engage with this nightmare world to exorcise those ghosts. He keeps descending into the coal mines. Finally the apocalyptic moment at the end unleashes the flood(gates) once more. Again the unconscious is always operating surreptitiously.
At the same time and at a literal level each element of the plot as it is encountered on the surface finds its complement underground. I have already referred to the obvious Vijay example but Mangal too after escaping from jail twice in the film will finally be imprisoned in coal mine having learned a few truths. One woman loses her lover in the flood, the other gets him back ‘redeemed’. The ‘engineer’ Shashi Kapoor who discovers rather unpleasantly that the workings of this underworld ultimately lie beyond the realm of calculation. His leg gets caught under a rock and he has to be rescued. Even the minor characters are involved in this dynamic. MacMohan, the ‘artist’ of cards, cannot perform a trick when he needs it most. In the final analysis the climactic moment is a kind of battle-field where character is tested. Only ‘heroes’ pass the test whether they survive or not. There is something a little Homeric about this film. There is an interlinking of character and destiny in this that recalls an ancient paradigm.
*more in a related vein in my review
**In the Conrad story the ship that is abandoned is actually carrying Muslim passengers on a pilgrimage to Mecca.