Is it a fantasy? Is it a fairy-tale? Is it a children’s film? Yes! And it is a pertinent commentary on the general state of the electoral machinery in the world’s biggest democracy—India.
Bhoothnath was about Kailashnath Bhootnath making friends with a mischievous youngster, Banku, and returning to meet him on the earthly plane even after the final rites were supposed to have freed him from the world.
The story in Bhoothnath Returns begins in a startlingly Hogwarts like mansion surrounded, for some reason, not by an Indian village but a quaint English one instead. This is the idyll where all Indians go after death—the ghost HQ, so to speak. This is also the place where souls are allotted their next births. However, merely the décor of this grand office is Western for it functions like a typical Indian sarkari daftar (government office) so getting your desired next birth can take literally lifetimes!
The inefficiency of the office sets the tone for the film as we come across ghosts laughing at Bhoothnath (Bachchan) for his failure in scaring a child.
A nettled Bhoothnath barges into the main office demanding a second chance to redeem himself.
This time he meets Akhrot (Bhalerao), a street-smart urchin who, like Banku in the prequel, can also see Bhootnath—the mild, gentlemanly ghost and is consequently completely unafraid of him. An unlikely friendship develops between them and they form a team to help the needy with Bhoothnath’s ghostly interventions. One thing leads to another and they find themselves fighting the election against the local goon Bhau (Irani).
Bachchan is in his element, singing, dancing and thoroughly enjoying himself. His comic-timing is as impeccable as ever. His spoof on his own gobbledygook speech from Amar Akbar Anthony: “You are a sophisticated rhetorician intoxicated with the exuberance of your own verbosity,” metamorphosing into the equally tongue-twisting pot-shot at India’s electoral system today, is worthy of a standing ovation. I must tip the hat to Parth Bhalerao, the child-actor, who holds his own against Bachchan. One wonders how much more effective this young actor would’ve been had he not been made to overact and hence rendered highly precocious in many scenes. Taking his own line from the film, maybe “India mein yehi chalta hai.”
Irani is convincing as the vile politician and has done justice to his character.
The music of the film is quite catchy, especially “Party toh banti hai.” A word of appreciation for the cinematographer and art-director for re-creating a realistic slum of Dharavi—a little cleaner than the original perhaps, but still quite authentic in replicating the narrow lanes and the general chaos.
The problem with Bhoothnath Returns is that there is a serious message to the electorate buried in a light-hearted comedy. If this movie had been a documentary it may have worked better. The movie, however, serves as a timely reminder (as the movie’s release coincided with the elections in India) of the rampant corruption prevalent in our society, and our own growing apathy.
Though it has some laugh-out-loud moments, it lacks the action punch and fast story which is a pre-requisite for a children’s film. And since it was publicized as a children’s film, the relevant group—the voting youth of India, predictably stayed away from it, thus nullifying the significant impact it may have had on the current electorate.
The predictable end of the film brings home another bitter truth—what with criminals and goons forming a significant number of our representatives, we’re so very impoverished that a ghost becomes a viable candidate in our country.
Madhumita Gupta is a freelance writer and a teacher.