Bhoothnath Returns is a good film till it remains a film. When it becomes a lecture on the importance of voting, it’s part topical and part sentimental. When it’s a propaganda on who to vote for, it is one part honest and two parts overlong and three parts lousy. It doesn't remain a film in the second half and what could have been a fantastic children’s film with a social message, becomes a social memo with a children film’s foundation. It just doesn’t ring true to me and feels like a misplaced undertaking. Albeit, when it’s a film, it’s a damn good one. I only wish it remained what it set out to be.
Bhoothnath Returns belongs to one person and one person alone: Parth Bhalerao. This kid who plays the character of Akhrot is a revelation. It’s one thing to share screen space with a stalwart like Amitabh Bachchan, it’s another to be the one stealing it from him. It’s yet another to the one doing that when you are 1/4th of his size and acting for the first time. At many places I found my gaze fixed at him when I should be looking at the more cinematically magnetic personality. I’m not saying he performs better than him. Let’s be honest, is there anyone in this country who can? What Parth Bhalerao achieves is that he is a great companion to Mr. Bachchan’s enigma. He also tells Mr. Bachchan “Overacting karta hai, par India mein chalta hai”. It is one thing to have the guts to say this to the man; it is another to get away with it.
The film begins with an introduction to Bhoot-world. It’s sort of like Hogwarts for ghosts. I mean, literally, a castle where ghosts work. It’s kind of strange watching Indian people strolling about the streets of a random quaint town in Northern England. This is where people go when they die, apparently. As Bhootnath mentions to Indian earthlings who might end up there one day - Don’t expect too much.
The film is laced with cheeky comedy, which is genuinely funny, especially the banter between Akhrot and Bhoothnath. Bhoothnath is sent to the earth to scare children and Bhoothnath ends up befriending this little kid who is street smart and has a heart of gold. This Monsters, Inc. (2001) segment of the film gets over quite soon and then begins an arc relating to a certain ghost removal business. These two partners in spirit become responsible for one of the most bizarre and funny sub-plots I’ve ever seen. I was buying all of it. It shouldn’t work but it does. Props to director Nitesh Tiwari, who after his Chillar Party (2011) debut makes another children’s film which has its heart in the right place.
The action takes place in Dharavi, the world’s biggest slum. It’s amazing what has been done with this location. Akhrot also sings a Dharavi Rap and it is surprisingly catchy. The other two songs “Party Toh Banti Hai” and “Party with Bhoothnath” are fun as well. The former written by a filmmaker who makes one of the three big cameos in the film. I won’t spoil them for you.
Then enters Bhau (Boman Irani). The embodiment of BJP and Congress, part murderer and part corrupt. Akhrot convinces Bhoothnath to stand up to him in this year’s elections. Ridiculous, right? How can a ghost contest in the elections! Believe me, the film gets more interesting and hilarious when he decides to. With the elections underway, this film is extremely topical.
Before the interval, we see one montage of unsettling images of India and its poverty. We are shown a glimpse of the real state of our country. Except, it is not a glimpse but a long sequence. It is also a bit sentimental and manipulative and breaks the narrative flow. At this point, I thought “Over-emotional hai, par India mein chalta hai”. I had been watching one hour of a good film, you can easily excuse five minutes from it, especially when its intention is good and it's effective.
During the interval, I wished they did not stretch that montage into a sermon on society’s problems and delivering its solutions. To my dismay, it did. In fact, there is a speech delivered by Mr. Bachchan about how vital it is for everyone to vote. There is also a mildly amusing sequence of people refusing to hear other people’s voices if they don’t have a voter ID card.
The second half shifts gears and becomes entirely about the politics. It’s not a children’s film anymore. Or even a film. It literally starts handing out flyers, which tell you to vote and why. This could be what OMG Oh My God (2012) and Lage Raho Munnabhai (2006) was to the junta. It doesn’t reach those heights but it wants to. It focuses too much on what it should be than what it must be. What it must be is a film, telling a story of a kid who can see a ghost.
It’s sad that the film is like the state of Indian politics. After setting up a solid promise, it fails to deliver. Party toh bani, par bante bante bigad gai. As Akhrot points out in the film: “This is not Slumdog, this is bulldog”. This little kid definitely is one; I wish the film were too.view less