Given the pandemic threat of digital buccaneers who release counterfeit copies of Hindi movies almost instantaneously, Hindi film producers are increasingly squeezed into an ever-narrowing “window” between an A-list project’s theatrical run and its official release on DVD. Still running at some theaters in the United States as of this writing, EROS released the Bhoothnath DVD fairly quickly, to coincide with the onset of summer vacations in the largest Hindi film markets (India, U.K., and the U.S.). Sharma’s rookie effort succeeds in presenting a ghost story for the young and capturing the young at heart.
A young family temporarily sets up residence at a many-windowed (ghost movie location scouts get flogged for failing to find a manse with at least seventy-nine windows) ocean side villa in scenic Goa (think same scouts, more lashes if there is no beach within a frisbee toss). Aman (Siddique), Anjali’s (Chawla) precocious eight-year-old son, is convinced there are no ghosts in the house—despite the rampant neighborhood rumors to the contrary. With their absentee father/husband (Khan) away on business almost always, mother and son go about setting a new routine. The only slight kink is that the house indeed has a resident ghost, Bhoothnath (Bachchan), who does not take kindly to his domain being invaded.
With neon-bright colorful imagery borrowed from Disney’s High School Musical (especially in a song staging a friendly grudge match between Aman and a would-be class rival), Sharma puts together a captivating story. Bhoothnath’sefforts to rid “his” house of the uninvited guests take up a laugh-filled half-hour. Bhoothnath—who can be seen only by humans he selectively chooses to scare—wants desperately to scare Aman. Aman, unconvinced of Bhoothnath’s scare tactics, has other plans for the ghost.
Great special effects help raise plausibility for this approachable family event. From the liquid-smoke designed opening credits to furniture that magically and ever-so-cleverly moves by itself (Bhoothnath’s invisible hand at work, of course), the outcome is marvelous. Hindi films don’t have an award category for special effects. Bhoothnath would be a good reason to start offering such an award. What threatens derailment, however, is Vishal-Shekhar’s saliently lacking musical score. While the choreography is top-notch, the only tune that rises above mediocrity is “Chale Jaane Do,” which taps into a restrained pathos of a forgiveness plea crooned maturely by Bachchan and Chawla, who stands her ground equally well.
Sharma, who previously assisted with Khan floaters Kuch Kuch Hota Hai andPaheli, is at ease with the super cast. Bachchan carries the emotional load appreciably. Pint-sized Siddique matches Bachchan almost step for step (the two have appeared together is several television commercials). Chawla is also very good as the hit-and-miss mom while Khan’s truncated under-delivered presence is refreshing. Even Shah, as a school principal who steals food from lunch-boxes of his unsuspecting wards, gets in on the show. Despite the lackluster musical score, Sharma sufficiently milks this comedy of errors.
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.