Director – Pavan Kripalani
spit – Saif Ali Khan, Arjun Kapoor, Yami Gautam, Jacqueline Fernandez
More funny than scary, Bhoot Police is undone by poor acting and a severe lack of Pankaj Tripathi. Starring Saif Ali Khan and Arjun Kapoor as ghost busters, Bhoot Police is the latest in Bollywood’s ongoing flirtation with the horror-comedy genre.
Although not winkingly sharp as Saif’s Goa Gone, Bhoot Police is still a fairly entertaining movie with moments of surprising emotional depth. But its overreliance on genre clichés—expect everything from projectile vomit and wall-crawling ghouls to crawling kid and haunted jungle—prevents it from being anything more than a mediocre movie meant to please audiences.
Watch the Bhoot Police trailer here:
Director Pavan Kirpalani borrows liberally from Evil Dead, Ghostbusters, Zombieland and The Exorcist, but perhaps the biggest inspiration – both linguistically and intellectually – is Scooby-Doo. Not only did brothers Chiraunji and Vibhooti drive in a Mystery Machine-esque car, they quickly formed a kind of ‘gang’ with sisters Maya and Kanika (Yami Gautam and Jacqueline Fernandez). There’s even a “cold fash” moment halfway through, but I’m not going to get into that.
The mismatched duo – Vibhooti being a monk and Chiraunji being the type who carried the burden of family expectations in his youth – are engaged in the field of “tantra”. Fortunately for them, they were born into a society whose survival hinges on superstition. So the business is booming.
But while Chiraunji is a firm believer in the paranormal, armed as ever with his father’s ghost hunting guide, Vibhooti is a skeptic; He deals with each new case with the aim of debunking the allegations. Ideological clashes between the two brothers led to an interpersonal conflict, with Kirpalani even giving them a watered-down version of the famous atheist Ricky Gervais-Stephen Colbert’s early argument. Vibhuti describes his brother as “bhooton ka antenna” and he describes himself as “bhooton ka x-ray”.
He senses an opportunity to earn money when a woman named Maya approaches them at a tantric fair and hires them to solve a supernatural mystery in her mountainous hometown. Thus, by Punjabi Inspector Cluso played by Javed Jaffrey and saddled with paternal issues, Chiraunji and Vibhooti take the lady on their offer and arrive at the supposedly haunted Dharamshala tea plantation.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Bhoot Police would have been better off if Kirpalani had made more courageous choices in selecting the candidates. Saif and Arjun are too polite to play these characters, and their polished accents often betray them. Even with the exact same script, the film could have been instantly improved if, for example, Vijay Raz, or Saif’s frequent collaborator, Deepak Dobrial, had been cast in the main roles. But unfortunately, we should be judging the Bhoot Police for what they are, not what we want them to be.
This is not bad at all. Attention was given to building the world, embodying (at least some) the central characters. Vibhooti spends his spare time watching episodes of Naagin, and is also a part of Playboy back-to-back versions, both of which are funny details. Arjun is kind of left in the dark. Overburdened with a character that is downright vanilla to be interesting. His Chiraunji appears as the kind of front bench that people like Vibhooti throw spit balls at from the back of the class. And instead of going up to them and bringing it back, he would complain to the teacher.
Women do not get better for similar reasons. Maya Yami Gautam is too straight to score, and there is little the actor can do with the material she has been given. But to my surprise, Jacqueline Fernandez rose to the occasion as Maya’s deceptively stupid sister Kanika.
On a technical level, however, Bhoot Police is somewhat whimsical, even by the already meager standards of Hindi horror comedies. I have to mention the mid-shot meltdown that permeates the film, accidentally, I hope. At first I turned it into a Hotstar glitch, but then it happened again and again, and again. It’s all very weird, and the mystery has kept me busy for about 20 minutes in the middle when the movie is a bit delayed. But who is to say if this is even a mistake; Remember those automatic mid-scene interruptions in The Big Bull?
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There’s a solid movie out there somewhere, but Kirpalani and his cohorts. Too busy providing useful entertainment for the family to push the most provocative buttons in the plot. Maybe the sequel they tease could smooth out some of those wrinkles?