Very little has changed in the last two-and-a-half decades or so, if you go by Ghayal Once Again. This throwback to the better Sunny Deol films of the 90s (particularly those directed by Rajkumar Santoshi) is yet another one-man-against-the-big-bad-world saga, but the formula’s gotten well and truly rusty now.

 
The spoilt kid of a slimy businessman callously kills an upright activist, and his powerful father expends all his energy protecting the wayward son. It’s the oldest cliché in the book, but Deol, who’s co-writer and director here, fashions a sequel to Ghayal around this shopworn premise.
 
He also reprises his role as Ajay Mehra, who was packed off to prison for killing the man responsible for destroying his family in that film. Now the leader of a vigilante group, Ajay comes to the rescue of a group of college students who find themselves in a bind after they stumble upon video footage of that influential businessman’s son committing cold-blooded murder.
 
The ensuing drama is predictable stuff, but it’s powered by thrilling action scenes that genuinely get your pulse racing. A car chase between the students who’ve got the video and the villain’s henchmen who’re after it, is impressively staged. As is a foot chase between our leading man and a bad guy, which culminates in a brutal hand-to-hand duel in a train compartment. Action director Dan Bradley keeps the pace brisk, and Chandan Arora’s slick editing keeps you invested in the outcome of these breathless sequences.
 
The same, alas, can’t be said for many of the characters in Ghayal Once Again. Most redundant in the ensemble is Soha Ali Khan, playing Ajay’s kind neurologist who’s also involved herself in his vigilante activities. Narendra Jha is suitably intimidating as business tycoon Raj Bansal, but it’s a part that all caricature. “Poore shaher mein red alert announce kar do,” he barks to his political ally, practically frothing at the mouth in pursuit of Ajay Mehra.
 
Melodrama reaches fever pitch, particularly in the final act, when a corny twist is revealed. There’s also a shrill female character who gets a little too much screen time to ham it up to the hilt. As far as our hero is concerned, Sunny Deol can still land a punch, and he directs his actors competently. But he deserves a better script…and so do we. By the time he flies into the frame on a chopper in the film’s overlong climax, you’re at the end of your patience and you really just want the film to end.
 
Ghayal Returns isn’t unwatchable – far from it. But it’s old-fashioned and evokes a distinct sense of déjà vu. I’m going with two out of five.

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