Priyadarshan is often associated with trigger-happy slapstick comedies (Malamaal Weekly, Garam Masala), so when one of his films turns serious one has to take notice. Perfectly balancing a laugh-out-loud comedy that moonlights with top-tier suspense, Bhool Bhulaiyaa is the filmmaker’s most enjoyable film since 1997’s Godfather-inspired Virasat.
When a successful young couple (Ahuja and Balan) return from the United States to meet up with their extended family in India, the reunion is marked by some mysterious incidences. The newlyweds take up residence in a nearly abandoned (and for good reason!) sprawling estate reputed to be infested with, you guessed it, things that go bump in the night. As the prospect of a real-life malevolent presence—real or imagined—takes root, the powers that be, lead by the easily-scared clan-leader Upadhayay (Rawal), decide on an exorcism that involves inviting Dr. Aditya Shrivastav (Kumar), a renowned American doctor, to help solve the mystery.
With a creepiness factor that brings to mind the Manoj Kumar-Sadhana classic black-and-white horror film Who Kaun Thi and some gravity-defying logic that plausibly reaches for the Hollywood classic The Exorcist, Priyadarshan cleverly, and without notice, transforms humorous moments into intensely suspenseful estate intrigue. Powered by the chart-topping Hare Rama Hare Krishna ditty and a super-hit box-office has even helped Kumar nail a record-setting five box office TKO’s in a row (Bhagam Bhag, Namastey London, Hey Babyy, Bhool Bhulaiyaa, and Welcome).
While Kumar and Rawal infuse credibility into the story from very different angles, this is really Balan’s show. The intensity Balan brings to her role—even getting into sure-footed classic Indian dance against her usual type—is quite remarkable. Priyadarshan and Kumar get the kudos, but it’s Balan who seals this deal.
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.