Saturday, April 12, 2014

Bhootnath Returns  

Ghost Leader

Nitesh Tiwari’s Bhoothnath Returns works with an idea that makes you wish were possible—letting a ghost stand for elections.

With perfect timing, this witty satire releases when the country is going through its most important election yet—the ugliest and the most keenly fought.

Bhootnath (Amitabh Bachchan) is sent back to earth from the bureaucratic ‘Afterlife Department’ because he turned out to be an ineffectual ghost in the last film. This time, he lands in Dharavi and befriends a chatterbox urchin Akhrot (Parth Bhalerao), who lives with his widowed mother (Usha Jadhav—likeable).  While making some ‘legit’ money by ridding haunted buildings of ghosts with the help of Bhootnath, and giving corrupt bureaucrats a fright, Akhrot runs afoul of evil politician Bhau (Boman Irani--overacting).

On checking with a lawyer (Sanjay Mishra), they find that there is no rule that prevents a dead man from contesting elections, so Bhoothnath stands against Bhau.

It is clever-- one would have imagined  Raju Hirani to come up with something as wacky as this—crackling with chuckle-worthy lines and a perfect logic that can’t be disputed, at least in a piece of fiction.

Of course, Bhau fights back with all the dirty tricks at his disposal, but he is no match against the wisdom of the ghost and the pluck of little Akhrot. The chemistry between the two is wonderful, and not once does the kid look intimidated in the presence of a great star like Bachchan, who in turn, doesn’t try to steal scenes from any of the other actors.  Everyone gets to play their part convincingly —whether it’s the lawyer, a sceptical cop or Anurag Kashyap as himself.

It is always difficult to carry an idea through to a plausible conclusion, and Tiwari can’t resist the temptation of putting in a public service message exhorting people to vote.  As Bhootnath says, because so many people do not vote, the candidate who gets elected is not the best one, but the least bad one. That’s not saying much, but still Bachchan’s monologue of hope and patriotism hits the spot. (There is also the distinct possibility of a Part 3)

With some editing, and control on the second-half melodrama, Bhootnath Returns would have been even better. It is admirable that Tiwari does not try to fit in romance and item songs to attract a mass audience; he keeps the flying objects kind of silly special effects to a minimum, speaks to children as intelligent humans and also addresses grown-ups in a persuasive way.  Worth a look. 


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