Ghulam (the word means 'slave') is about relationships, therefore inherently about trust and respect. There's a lawyer Fatema Madam (the ever-dependable Mita Vasisht) who trusts Siddharth Marathe (Aamir Khan) will stop being a nuisance to society...
...and there's a a misguided and confused Siddharth who is reminded of his father (favorite filmi father, Dileep Tahil) every time he runs into a social worker who demands respect and equality, much to the dismay of his elder brother and gangster Jai (Rajit Kapoor).
Siddharth (a boxer) and Jai (an accountant) work for the evil Raunaq Singh (Sharat Saxena), a.k.a. Ronnie who, as the don of his community, is feared by almost everyone. But one event triggered by the social worker referred to above changes the dynamic of their organizational hierarchy, and an altercation between the two brothers, of which I would rather reveal nothing -- let their faces express it all -- takes the film into a brilliantly executed climax complete with retribution being afforded an opportunity.
There are several relationships that drive the film forward, and they are well-integrated throughout. One of the most significant is, of course, the one shared by Siddharth and Alisha (Rani Mukherji). Alisha belongs to a bikers club and hangs out with a bully named Charlie (Deepak Tijori). Charlie, however, cannot stand Siddharth, and leads us to the a scene that reminds us that no scene or film should risk a life.
The infamous and ridiculous 10:10 Ki Daud (Race at 10 past 10) scene (watch it here in its entirety -- you must to appreciate what this is about), which won the Best Scene of the Year Award at the Filmfare Awards the following year, comprised a stunt that Aamir did himself. From this intriguing 1998 India Today magazine article (which also discusses Aamir's appeal):
Aamir Khan lies mangled underneath a train, his 5-ft something frame crunched like a toothpick. All the boyish charm turned to blood. 1.3 seconds make these lines fiction. 1.3 seconds was all that remained when Aamir, attempting a dangerous stunt for the upcoming Ghulam, running toward a speeding train, calculating the time when it would hit him, decided it was close enough and jumped off the rails. "It was very foolish of me," he says. "But sometimes you get swayed by your feelings to achieve a great shot."
Foolish indeed, Aamir. But awe-inspiring nevertheless, and one that comforted us during two injuries sustained while filming for Ghajini, which reduced him to crutches and delayed the film by a couple of months (here he is discussing them). In Ghulam, it's only fitting that the signal to run toward the train is delivered by Rani. Their pairing is fantastic. From the scenes capturing their initial attraction...
...to the bolder moments, this immediately followed by a lip lock.
As noted under 'S' in this post, I was in high school when Ghulam released, and I can tell you Rani's performance in this film was one of the most talked-about of the year. She successfully established herself as cute but sexy, and it certainly helped to have one of the most popular songs in the modern era, Aati Kya Khandala, leading people to see the film. (Khandala is a hill station and vacation spot in the state of Maharashtra.) The song is still extremely popular, and its lyrics (Nitin Raikwar, Sameer writes for the rest) still fondly remembered when 'Sun' (listen) is followed by 'Sunaa' (make me listen) are used in daily conversation! Here it is, with vocals by Aamir and Alka Yagnik:
Here is Bhuvan singing to entertain the crowd of over 10,000 while filming the greatest cricket match ever played in Lagaan (2001). Director Ashutosh Gowariker notes that the villagers' applause to the singing was integrated in the film. Much more in the documentary Chale Chalo (2007) included in the official Lagaan DVD set.
Aside: Speaking of Lagaan, here's honorable mention to Amin Haji who played the role of Bagha. In Ghulam, he is Black Tiger the boxer.
The Khandala song is hardly the only good one. Here are some other favorites:
I think of #2 as a prequel to a song featuring Aamir and Kajol in Fanaa (2006). #3 is a sentimental favorite for reasons I'd rather not discuss in a public forum, but it is a great song regardless! =) My only quibble with it is that it takes Director Vikram Bhatt to follow an exceptional effort in that train scene with a song in which we are shown Aamir atop what is clearly a stationary motorbike -- that stuff belonged in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958), maybe filming on a real street wasn't as challenging? I see folks from Hollywood film scenes in vehicles what seems like every other Friday in Downtown L.A. alone! It's not that difficult, really.
That's okay, though, and not something I hold too much against the film. This frame is from the song Tujhko Kya, in which Aamir's voice Udit Narayan provides a song which is almost a sequel to the fun-filled Yaaron Sun Lo Zara in Rangeela (1995).
The classic from Howrah Bridge (1954), Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu, also makes an appearance. Here it is, sung by Aamir the bully (could not find a video with English subtitles):
Ghulam does have its flaws, the most glaring being that Rani's voice is dubbed (she does have a very sweet and atypical voice, and in hindsight, one misses that). And once the climax begins, it does become slightly predictable. But here is a film that, despite sticking to the conventional recipe, delivers in fine fashion while being engaging and entertaining. I'm going with close to four stars for a memorable film which warrants a viewing for the amazing chemistry between Aamir and Rani, and very effective performances by the supporting cast, if not for some fantastic action sequences. It's the intangibles that make it work very well.
Movie Rating: 3.75/5 (Very very good!)
Sarfarosh (1999) was a much better film overall, but if you liked it or Rangeela (1995), I think you will enjoy Ghulam, especially if there is a part of you that likes Aamir or Rani. Think of this as somewhere in the middle as far as the subject matter is concerned. I haven't seen the English film this is said to be a remake of, On the Waterfront (1954). (The Bhatts seem to specialize in the category, so it wouldn't be surprising at all if true.)
Music Rating: 3.75/5 (Very good!)
Excellent integration, most songs fit in well and are well choreographed.
My Classification: R (for violence, language)
Remember the theme: training (this just appeared on a feed) for a street fight, a train scene, retribution. Remember Ghajini... :)