Bhoot Police movie review: Saif Ali Khan sizzles in a breezy horror comedy
Better balance between the horror and comedy, and some ingenuity in creating more convincing scares would elevate the chronicles of these ghost hunters immensely.
castSaif Ali Khan, Arjun Kapoor, Yami Gautam, Jacqueline Fernandez, Jaaved Jaaferi, Rajpal Yadav, Jamie Lever
“Two conmen are recruited by a once-wealthy, now-struggling benefactor, to rid the local populace of a terrifying menace.” Sound familiar? About a quarter way into Pawan Kripalani’s Bhoot Police, I was struck by the similarity of the basic description of its plot, with Ramesh Sippy’s iconic 1975 cult Sholay.
Even Vibhuti and Chiraunji, the characters played by Saif Ali Khan and Arjun Kapoor respectively, have a similar dynamic as Jai and Veeru. Two inseparable orphans; the former an energetic, incorrigible womaniser; the latter a little more sorted and focused on the job at hand. (In Bhoot Police, they also happen to be brothers.)
The Sholay connect is probably just incidental, but it serves as a good marker for where Bhoot Police pitches its tent. Kripalani does not veer away from his horror forte with his fourth feature film, but he mounts it bigger than anything he has done before (with the added all-important element of comedy). In spirit (pun unintended), the film is closer to his first two films – Ragini MMS (2011) and Darr @ The Mall (2014) – than to his last film, Phobia (2016). The Radhika Apte-starrer was more nuanced, twisted, and darker than the rest of his work. His latest is as ‘commercial’ as it gets. Oh, and it is immensely franchise-able, but we will get to that.
The ‘Thakur’ of this enterprise is Maya (Yami Gautam), who calls on the two ‘tantriks’ to address the haunting of her troubled tea estate in Dharamsala. She does not know that Vibhuti and Chiraunji have thus far just preyed on public superstition and made a livelihood off it. Instead, she chooses them because years earlier, the duo’s tantrik father had fixed the sitch when her father was heading the estate and faced his own paranormal problems. Years later, turns out Gabbar is back. (The Gabbar in question, then, is a Groot-like supernatural entity called Kichkandi.)
At its finest, Bhoot Police is a hoot. A number of scenes, punctuated by audacious one-liners dropped out of the blue, turn out better than you would expect them to. Take for instance the opening sequence, where we are introduced to the bhoot-busters for the first time. The purported exorcism of a young girl deftly becomes a beti padhao-beti bachao moment. Or later, when Vibhuti and Chiraunji attempt to convince the locals of their credentials by pointing to their father’s historical success, there is a quick jab at nepotism in the tantrik industry. Even the ‘go Kichkandi, go’ line from the trailer of the film comes out of nowhere, and lands on point.
Surprisingly enough, it is the horror aspect of the film that tends to weigh it down. To Kripalani’s credit, he does not go down the easy route of forced jump scares. Still, the film just does not have enough genuinely frightening moments to power its premise through. This feels even more like a major let-down because the mystery or reason behind the haunting is a rather good one. Once it is revealed in the climax, it will be hard not to feel a twinge of grief for the characters involved. A pity that this story stays so far in the background right until the veil is lifted in the end.
The film also has a completely unnecessary side-track involving a cop (Jaaved Jaaferi) who is chasing the brothers down. It does lead to some hilarity, but it serves no purpose in the larger story. Same goes for a tangential scene involving Rajpal Yadav early in the film; just some added humour in a movie that stays faithful to its comic mooring throughout anyway. How often I found myself wishing that Kripalani had traded a couple of the massy-humour set-pieces in the film for some massy-horror ones instead.
The other strange little aspect of the film, though minor, is its confused messaging about superstition. While the film, through Khan’s character, initially decries blind faith and belief in ghosts and the paranormal as a social evil, it later sees them deal with a terrifying otherworldly being. While that is fine from a plot perspective, it seems odd for it to do an about turn as it goes along. Clearly, that initial push against superstition was just an angle, not something inherently thought of as a part of the message.
If you had to pick the biggest strength of the film, Saif Ali Khan is a top contender. The actor seems to be having the time of his life. All he needs is a person or a prop in the frame along with him, and he sizzles.
Kapoor coasts along fine by his side, even though after Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, this one seems like a little bit of a step back for him, a variation of a personality type he has already played multiple times before. One of the other irrelevant tracks in the film is that of Jacqueline Fernandez, who plays Maya’s sister Kanika. Jacqueline leans into her Instagram popularity to play a vlogger/influencer type character. Though she does have a little more to do vis-à-vis the main plot, she is still an underutilised character. Same goes for a radiant Yami Gautam, who we see far too little of in the film. Watch out, though, for a terrific little appearance by Jamie Lever as one of the locals. She exudes much of that crackling timing her father (Johnny Lever) was known for.
What Bhoot Police works best as is an origin story. Two men with a father’s legacy and nowhere to go, discover that they have a part to play in dealing with the occult. It takes a while coming, but the film plays hard on the bond of brotherhood between Vibhuti and Chiraunji, takes it apart, and then gives each of them a sort of role or purpose to play in their partnership.
The film already announces its intention to make this a running franchise as it ends, which would not be a bad idea at all. There is a wealth of supernatural stories inspired from cultures and traditions across India that could form the basis for subsequent Bhoot Police adventures. (Call it cabin fever, but in this first film, the hilly setting of Dharamsala looks and feels great on the big screen.) Better balance between the horror and comedy, and some ingenuity in creating more convincing scares, would elevate the chronicles of these ghost hunters immensely.
Bhoot Police will release on 10 September on Disney+ Hotstar Multiplex.
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