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Vivek Sharma
Amitabh Bachchan, Aman Siddiqui, Shah Rukh Khan, Juhi Chawla, Satish Shah
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Oscar Wilde’s hugely-funny The Canterville Ghost forms the inspiration for Bhoothnath this comic-ghost story that begins on light-hearted demeanor. As The Canterville Ghost begins with the Otises moving into Canterville Chase despite warnings of a ghost; the Sharmas with their son Aman move into Nath Villa in Goa despite rumours that it’s haunted. In both cases, the ghost turns out to be the former owner of the home – in Bhoothnath it is Kailash Nath (Amitabh Bachchan). After moving into the home, Aditya Sharma (Shah Rukh Khan) has to leave immediately as he works on a cruise liner. That leaves his wife Anjali (Juhi Chawla) and son Aman alone in the new home. Anjali gets busy in the days to come looking after Aman, getting him ready for school, and setting up the new house. She’s not your typical sari-clad Hindi film mother, but a rather trendier and a more fun version.

While in The Canterville Ghost, it was the Otises’s daughter Virginia who “weeps for his (the ghost’s) past sins and prays for the salvation of his soul”; in Bhoothnath it is Aman who becomes the path for the ghost’s mukti. But before that ensue some hilarious episodes. Foremost among them is the scene where the gold-hearted ghost gets scared out-of-his wits when super-mischievous Aman frightfully sneaks up on him.

Other delight-filled scenes include one where Aman tricks Bhoothnath into arranging all the furniture and setting up house; the one where Bhoothnath enters into a photograph on the wall and also where he becomes like his mischief-mentor Aman and creates an animated lion on the blackboard in middle of class. As with many mainstream films, there is the ubiquitous Christian guy (his name’s Anthony, no surprise there) and he’s a petty thief for want of “daaru”. He’s there for laughs, but the role is a huge underutilisation of Rajpal Yadav’s comic talent.

However, post-interval, this frothy choco shake becomes pheeka doodh. The film becomes a drama, not mellow, in its showcasing of how Kailash Nath’s son Vijay leaves his parents and goes away to settle in America. With a sizeable upper middle-class and middle-class descendants settling abroad, this high-decibel moralistic shrieking is not contemporary, practical, nor is it real.

As in Baghban (a BR Films product, no wonder), the son and the daughter-in-law are vile creatures, and what’s more, are now selfish enough to want to sell the house. As the film sprints downhill into the melodrama mode, kids are bound to get bored when they were expecting more laughs and adults, who were probably looking to a break from soppy films, are likely to feel imprisoned into another such.

As always, BR Films has yet to evolve when it comes to gender dynamics. All its protagonists, like in Baghban, have sons, who further produce more sons. Also, one did notice objectionable gender stereotyping in its slick songs. In the `Hum to hain andhi’ song, the little boys are all swash-buckling sportspeople, while the girls are background cheerleaders with pompoms. Tsk, tsk, all this in the land of PT Usha, Sania Mirza, Anju Bobby George, Anjali Poppat, Kunjarani Devi and Koneru Humpy (among several other notables).

The chemistry between Juhi Chawla and SRK is warm, and together they look like the happy family you see in advertisements. Though it seems unfair to critique the work of a child, Aman Siddiqui’s is not the best child performerance we’ve seen. In films like Black, Makdee, Iqbal and Taare Zameen Par, kids have stolen the limelight from under the adult actors’ noses with their shining renditions. In the midst of such somber competition, Aman, despite his confident and easy screen presence, does well but does not outshine.

Juhi Chawla is a delight to watch as the spirited mother, who cannot help laughing at the principal on whom her son has accidentally thrown ink. SRK’s hardly there but he’s impactful even in the miniscule role. Amitabh Bachchan is the saving grace here. He reinforces his incredible talent and his gamely approach for accepting varied roles that others would shudder even thinking about; truly, Bachchan’s infallible nuance-filled performance makes you root for the lovable ghost.

Technically, the film is superb with cinematography, songs, background score and editing all excellent. The songs are good to hear and their wonderful picturisation is sure to please the cherubs. Hum To Hain Andhi and Banku Bhaiya are full of fun, and Chalo Jane Do is imaginatively pasteurized with clowns and dancing puppets making nice cameos. Only grouse in this department is there are far too many songs.

Debutant director Vivek Sharma seems caught between making a film that’s a departure from the mainstream formula; at the same time is unwilling to let go of the over-the-top sentimental saga that BR Films has come to represent.

The film, despite its overt simplicity, starts off well-enough. It’s the disastrous Baghbanification of the story that kills the soul of, what could have been, a fairly engaging and entertaining film.

Verdict: Two-and-a-half stars


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