Form: Katrina Kaif, Ishaan Khatter, Siddhant Chaturvedic
Director: Gurmmeet Singh
Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
It’s crazy, wild and weird in a way that takes a lot of getting used to. From the opening sequence, Phone Bhoot is a kind of maelstrom. Whether you can relate to and enjoy the eccentric horror comedy of Phone Bhoot just depends on whether you have a penchant for the bizarre. If you do, the movie produced by Excel Entertainment offers a full range of incentives. It stops at absolutely nothing in its pursuit of all that is strange and clumsy in the occult.
Phone Bhootdirected by Gurmmeet Singh (whose credits include: Mirzapur and a few episodes of inner rimnext to movies like What the fish and Sharafat Gayi Tel Lene) takes a calculated probability Bhool Bhulaiyalike quirkiness. The results are uneven, but not entirely meaningless.
The makers of the film believe that Phone Bhoot represents an idea that can be milked beyond the limit of a single film. A spectral sutradhar narrating a voiceover in the beginning, middle and end of the film hints that a sequel is possible. Are we excited right now? One is not quite sure.
The film’s fantasies don’t always land on the right track, but it manages to put together a bunch of jokes that, taken together, deliver some glee, some madness, and a whole lot of manic moments, propelled by a cast that’s perfectly in sync with the insane spirit of the movie.
A wandering soul, Ragini (Katrina Kaif), alluring as hell, appears out of nowhere and sells a business idea to two bumbling self-proclaimed bhoot-busters, Sherdil Shergill ‘Major’ (Siddhant Chaturvedi) and Galileo Parthasarathy ‘Gullu’ (Ishaan Khattar). The two boys, one from Punjab and the other from Tamil Nadu, grew up obsessed with ghosts and ghosts and inevitably found each other.
The two are at odds with real people, especially Major’s daddy and Gullu’s appa. The first wants his son to join the army, the second hopes that his son will one day become a scientist. However, in the single scene where the two fathers (Manu Rishi Chadda and Kedar Shankar) appear, they make no bones about almost giving up on the boys.
Turns out, the wandering soul that made her way into their lives has a plan far greater than what the wandering duo can comprehend to begin with. When they find out where they are being led, they are hesitant at first and then choose to continue playing regardless of the cost. They have nothing to lose except their self-loathing and the discouraging taunts of the world.
They find themselves randomly on a collision course with the evil ‘soul catcher’ Atmaram (Jackie Shroff), whose strength stems from a staff that is both a weapon and a trap for the dead seeking rescue. His fortune suffers a sharp decline when the two bumbling boys unknowingly offer him stiff competition in the cause of freeing souls wandering in the world of mortals.
One such soul is Chikni Chudail, played by Sheeba Chaddha, who takes on a disguise far removed from the screen character she usually slips into with elan in real-life family dramas. Farce that quickly turns into a rampant camp isn’t her forte. But when she has lines to deliver, not only does she not joke about it, she owns them with devotion, adding to the film’s rapidly rising strangeness quotient.
Parts of Phone Bhoot call the correct numbers, others just won’t connect. Despite the volatile affair it ends up being, the film unabashedly winds down a path of frenzied absurdity as the honest ghostbusters encounter destructive forces bent on taming them and driving them out of business.
Phone Bhoot contains many nods to the popular Hindi cinema of the 1980s and beyond, the most notable of which is a reference to Jackie Shroff’s early career. The eloquent character playing the Bollywood veteran turns to his young adversaries and mocks them:Asli hero idhar khada haisince 1983.” He goes on to play a tune from the actor’s debut film, Subhash Ghai’s Heroon a flute.
Nothing is more directly reminiscent of Bollywood’s past than the villain’s lair in which the climax is set, without any limitations. Shroff enjoys the excesses that he is free to indulge in. His co-actors stand in step with him as Atmaram tries to stop Major and Gullu’s lassi-and-black-coffee combo from finding a way to turn the tables on him.
Delightful Ragini isn’t the only ghost on Major and Gullu’s side of the battle lines. They have their own guardian angel, Raka (Surendra Thakur), who takes center stage in their home, dominated by posters of movies titled Cheekhti Deewar and Bandh Darwaza. Only the setting that has a bhatakti aatma wouldn’t need an invitation to float in.
Katrina Kaif literally floats in and out of the film until her backstory, told in the second half by Ragini herself in the second half, turns her into the central figure, a dead woman with a real mission. Siddhant Chaturvedi, trying the brash and quick major, fits the bill. But the actor who runs off with the film, and that effortlessly, is Ishaan Khattar. As the nerdy Gullu, he brings both charm and spice to his performance.
Phone booth isn’t an earth-shattering, groundbreaking deal for the genre, but it has the feel of a completely crazy hat party where everything is going well. It’s not in the least apologetic about it. That is the great strength of the film. Getting it done is anything but easy, as the many missteps in the film’s wacky arc show, but the barber doesn’t walk himself ragged. That can, in all probability, be regarded as a success.
Recommended but with a small health warning: Phone Bhoot is not for all taste buds.
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