A film year is just not complete without a dark, convincing ghost story. While Hum Koun Hai?—a Hindi remake of the Nicole Kidman hit The Others—lacks the full-throttle horror delivery of the 2003 mega hit Raaz, it succeeds in scrounging a few genuine scares and landing on its feet. Boasting a wonderful cast (think retro-1970s headliners)—all aging, but far from aged—and a plot twist or two, Hum Koun Hai? is a pleasant ghostly antidote to the festive Divali season.
The film is set in a huge bungalow on a fog-shrouded vista. Sandra Williams (Kapadia) is a seemingly single mother of two children (precociously played by Baby Hansika and Master Aman) whose photo-sensitivity has forced them to live indoors behind heavily curtained windows. The arrival of a new housekeeping staff, led by the stoic Mrs. Pinto (Chatterjee) strangely also signals the start of a haunting at the bungalow.
Whispered voices in empty rooms, inexplicable thumps, and a piano that seems to play itself become frightening daily occurences. Then there is the housekeeping staff that may just know more than they are letting on. Confined to the house on account of her children’s malady, Sandra’s only emotional escape comes from contemplating the return of her husband Frank (Bachchan), a soldier who is away at war.
While there are plenty of plot twists, including an ending that departs from the Kidman original, it’s all clean fun. The interior lighting is sparingly bright but not blinding. On Eros’s commendable DVD transfer, the creaking floor, rustling window drapes, and strange midnight thumps come alive on surround sound while the absence of songs helps sustain the tension. The only letdown is the sometimes shoddy editing that has the camera cutting away too quickly from some scenes.
Even though Bachchan is used sparingly here (he is officially only credited with a “special” appearance), he is clearly the main attraction. Kapadia, who gets far more time onscreen is credible as the struggling woman forced to question her own sanity in the face of such other-worldly goings on in her house. Chatterjee is restrained, while Dharmendra as Bachchan’s onscreen sidekick is a nice throwback to the legendary Sholay match-up (abandoning subtlety, the Dharmendra’s character here is also named Veeru).
Bachchan has enjoyed remarkable connectivity at the marquee in 2004. It seems he can’t turn down any role. No less than eight films of his have been released and a couple more are ready for release. With earlier 2004 successes like Khakee, Kyun … Ho Gaya Na, and Lakshya behind him, Hum Koun Hai? with Anil Sharma’s war flick Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Saathiyon and Yash Chopra’s Partition-anchored Veer Zaara, both due for 2004 yearend release, will likely establish Bachchan’s aging alpha-male status in Hindi films.
Aniruddh Chawda writes from Wisconsin, on America’s north coast.