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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, Review: Witch ghost will be the soul survivor?

Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, Review: Witch ghost will be the soul survivor?

Alternately calling itself a horror story and a humorous tale, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 (Labyrinth, Maze) does raise a few laughs. The horror, however, fails to strike terror. Songs, literally thrust into the film and one of them relegated to the end credit titles, are catchy, but they are either mushy or foot-tapping, neither kind blending with the theme. There is indeed a labyrinth of explanations for some of the spooky goings on in the end, but the film leaves you right there, in the labyrinth, in spite of taking several scenes to expound the confusing denouement. Perhaps that is done with an eye on extending the franchise to Part 3, which is unlikely to materialise, given the reactions at the press preview screening yesterday. Putting all this together, the film does not work in totality.

Set in Rajasthan, though shot in Lucknow, the story begins with the fake death of Reet Thakur who does not want to marry the man she is being married off to. In fact, Reet’s sister Trisha loves that man, but they are helpless against the decision of the families. Reet meets Ruhan accidentally, they strike a chord, and the two seek shelter in an abandoned huge ‘haveylee’ (mansion house), with countless rooms and corridors, owned by the Thakur family, but abandoned because it is haunted. At first, Ruhan is reluctant to move in there, but when Reet talks about how she spent her childhood and growing up years there, and how it is a perfect place to hide, he agrees.

Noticing activity there, Chhota Pandit alerts the mourning Thakur family that someone is inside, and they all head for the haveylee, armed to the teeth, to face the ghost, who is actually the sister-in-law of the Thakur, and was confined to the mansion with the help of a senior pandit. Seeing them come, Reet hides behind a sofa chair, while Ruhan sits on that very sofa, and faces the ‘battalion’. He calmly claims that he is a ghost-specialist, who grew-up among spirits, and can talk to the ghost of Reet, or, for that matter, any other soul. He insists that Reet’s ghost is right there and her wish is that Trisha be married to the man who was to marry her (Reet). After some deliberation, they agree. But it is not Reet’s ghost that is the cause for any fear, the terror begins when the door of the room in which ‘Manjulika’s ghost was locked (shades of the Shuttered Room, 1967) is opened. All hell will break loose now, for this ghost has already killed eight of the Thakur family’s members in the last 18 years. Will Rooh Baba (Soul Man), an epithet he has earned as a result of some co-incidental occurrences credited to him, be able to tackle a real ghost?

A ghost story needs very careful and meticulous writing. If the writer wants the audience to suspend disbelief completely, he/she has to make the plot completely convincing on a meta-physical plane. If that does not happen, the audience starts thinking on a realistic plane, and is willing to suspend disbelief only partially. Now, if humour is to be an adjunct to the plot, it has to proceed onother, a different, more realistic plane. Blending the two is a fine art, and that is what was expected of the script of Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2. Ghostbusters, the 1984 film and the series, could be a point of reference, and maybe it was. That film made ten times its investment, in the long run. Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 will…I am no film trade analyst!  

Farhad Samji and Aakash Kaushik, the penmen of Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, have failed to merge the two planes, and that is the major failing of the film. By definition, a ghost does not need 18 years to wreak vengeance, even it was confined behind a huge door with a Shiva’s trishul (Lord Shiva’s trident) as the lock. With no history of superlative wit and an IQ in the 180s, how can a lay man play act the role of a Rooh Baba (Soul Baba) at the drop of a hat? The writers do little to distinguish between souls, ghosts and witches, though they cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be clubbed together. One also wonders how the trade of the two quack astrologers and palmists plummets after the advent of Rooh Baba? He is never shown reading a single palm or making an astrological chart. And when Rooh Baba declares a female donkey as the reincarnation of Chhotey Pandit’s dead wife, who, he is ordered, should treat her like a human wife, you feel you have had too much.

M/s Kaushik and Samji come up with some very funny dialogue and good comic writing, time and again, though completely out of place. When Reet recalls that her father used push the swing for her when she was a child, and she really enjoyed that, Ruhan retorts, “Oh, so your father was a swinger!” On another occasion, he is about utter an expletive about mother when he is interrupted by the shocked listener for abusing his dead mother. Ruhan coolly comes up with, “I was saying Mother, I will talk to you.” A third example is when he addresses an obese boy, Potlu, Reet’s cousin, who had hit him hard earlier, as “Haathee” (Elephant). The family takes strong exception, even as Ruhan changes the word into a proverb, “Haathee key daant, dikhaney key aor, khaneykey aor (An elephant has different teeth to show-tusks- and different to eat with.” There is a lot of confusion about what the nature of the super-natural is.

Anees Bazmee, who has written (30) double the number of films than he has directed (15, including this one and an under-production one), and has been in the film industry since 1992, should have known better. He banks on SFX and CGI to create the scares, explains some of them as tricks, goes completely overboard when delivering the real goosebumps, also uses jump starts or a tap on the shoulder from behind when nobody is there to cause a scare, dream sequences to bring in horror, songs that are all out of place, co-incidences that are comic but completely contrived and many such unWelcome (pun on a film he directed) tropes and tricks of the genre. After a reasonable start, the film gets into boredom territory, then beefs up a bit on the strength of comedy, followed by the climax, that will leave many viewers guessing, with this writer having his own reservations about the explanations.

Does he really expect us to believe that after getting the ‘treatment’, partially deaf Badaa Pandit can hear sounds several kilometres away, though there is no ghost inside him? So many bizarre goings on and killings over the years, right down to the film’s present, and there is no sign of the police. Banking on Tabu to deliver a very complex character, or, rather, characters (she plays twins, Manjulika and Anjulika), he bets safely. But neither the competency of this gifted actress nor the romantic inter-play between Kartik Aryan and Kiara Advani, topped by Kartik’s gushing enthusiasm, can rescue the film. For, one their relationship is never clearly defined. And the first thing Bazmee should do is cut out the romantic number from the film. It will be the richer for it. Instead, ‘Aamee jey tomaar’ (only a few Bengali words in the song), carried over from Part 1, as is the name Manjulika, has an infectious lilt about it, is hummable outside the cinema-hall, and can be exploited. Yes, the film took two-an-a-half years to release, and there was Covid to contend with. But in the end, it is poor content that we have to contend with.

If you hear his dialogue delivery very carefully and pay extra attention to his voice, you will find that Kartik Aryan sounds a lot like Akshay Kumar, who was the ghost-buster in Bhool Bhulaiyaa 1 (2007, a good 15 years preceded the sequel). It cannot be ruled out that this was one factor in choosing him for the role. Add to that the few quite well-executed dance steps that he performs, with his frame being a bit leaner than many of the other male leads around. Lastly, he is 32 years old, compared to Akshay’s 54 years, not ideally suited to play someone who is ‘eloping’ with a youngish girl. And his timing, especially the comic timing, is good, for which Kartik and Anees should share the honours. But he cannot carry the film on his shoulders alone. Kiara (real name Alia) Advani, 29, has a striking resemblance to Esha Deol and has completed a decade in films. She showed some promise in her earlier films, but this role does not give her much opportunity to move on. Most of the time, she is running or hiding or gushing. The one scene where she play-acts as the ghost is nicely done, the credit for which must largely go to the male-sounding dubbing.

If there is one performance that lifts the film to a level higher than it merited, it is that of Tabu. Tabassum Hashmi, at 51, gets under the skin of her character time and again. Of course, the layers of make-up do help, but in the end, you needed a solid actress to pull off such an incredible caper, and Tabu did her best. She was to be the equivalent of Vidya Balan in the first outing, and she proved more than equal to the task. There is a competent, ensemble cast to back the leads, in the shape of Rajpal Yadav as Chhotey Pandit, who elicits many a laugh, Sanjai Mishra as Badey Baba/Jyotishi Baba adds some much-needed deadpan laughs. Milind Gunaji as the Big Thakur has a permanently stern look on his face and the only action he gets to do is to slap somebody, Rajesh Sharma as Reet’s uncle is too good an actor to be used in this manner, and over-the-top drunkard, but he takes it in his stride. Siddhant Ghegadmal as Potlu, the obese boy, is a welcome departure from cute, precocious kids, and plays his part convincingly. And Govind Namdev is apt as the hapless exorcist, who, along with a bunch of followers, sets off on a route where death is waiting.

Sandeep Shirodkar creates a theme music that is repeated once too often. The songs are the compositions of Pritam and Tanishk Bagchi. Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 - Title Track, is by Mandy Gill, Sameer, and Tanishk Bagchi       and rendered by Neeraj Shridhar and Mellow D Bob. ‘Hum nashey men to naheen’, well-written by Amitabh Bhattacharya and composed melodiously by Pritam, with the voices of Arijit Singh and Tulsi Kumar, is the one that needs to be excised. The third, and the last track, ‘De taalee’, with Amitabh Bhattacharya writing again, with Yo Yo Honey Singh, Pritam as composer and Yo Yo Honey Singh, Armaan Malik and Shashwant Singh as the voices, is really foot-tapping.

A ghost story would have been the nightmare for most cinematographers till the 2000s. In this millennium, however, you can do all you want in post-production. Cinematography by Manu Anand  captures the two contrasts, indoors/night and outdoors/day, quite well. After so many gloomy and spooky greys, the outdoor scenes suddenly hurt the eyes. Shadows flitting across the frame are well-executed, and the ‘witch’ turning her feet round, 360 degrees, is one of the better scary scenes in the film. Film editing by Bunty Nagi employs stereo-typical horror clichés to create scares. He restricts the screen time to 140-143 minutes, depending on which website one checks-out, which is rather long for a horror comedy. Brevity is the soul of humour. It is also the ghost of a horror film. And when you are making a cross-over film, you have to be doubly careful to ensure that the horror is not a trick played on the unsuspecting audience and the humour is not at variance with the horror component.

Rules of the game demand that if you fail to come out of a labyrinth or a maze, when the game is over, you should be led out honourably. While we critics will find (and did find) our way out, chances are that the producers, Bhushan Kumar, Murad Khetani, Krishan Kumar and Anjum Khetani will be in a daze, or rather maze, for some time. Not to worry, they are very big fish and one little dragnet can hardly cause alarm.

Rating: **



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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