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Bhoothnath

Rating: 2

May 09, 2008

Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Aman Siddique, Shah Rukh Khan, Juhi Chawla

Director: Vivek Sharma

He sings and dances, arranges the furniture, and even puts the school’s lunchbox-raiding principal in place. Yes, that’s Bhoothnath for you, the friendly ghost played by Amitabh Bachchan, in director Vivek Sharma’s film by the same name.

After a failed attempt at scaring away little Banku and his family who have moved into his sprawling Goa bungalow, Bhoothnath becomes buddies with the precocious kid.

So far, not too many complaints. It’s silly and childish yes, but also very watchable. Problems arise somewhere beyond the half-way mark of Bhoothnath when this kids-friendly entertainer turns into something of a rona-dhona heavy Baghbaan rehash. You sink into your seat and cringe with embarrassment as our teary-eyed ghost goes into flashback mode and bores us with those sad stories of his neglectful son.

Despite its fairly basic plot and predictable screenplay, for the most part Bhoothnath works just fine as a children’s film. It is after all a formula that never fails when done even half right. Although it’s nothing you haven’t seen before, the adventures of Banku and Bhooth are enjoyable to watch largely because the chemistry between Bachchan and child actor Aman Siddique is so riveting.

So whether they’re pulling a gag on the school principal, or devouring “aloo parathas” that Banku’s mother is struggling to prepare, it’s this unlikely friendship between boy and ghost that is the film’s main draw.

And that’s why it hurts as hell when writer-director Vivek Sharma steers his ship in an entirely different direction as the film enters its third act. Melodramatic and needless, the track involving Bhoothnath‘s back-story is a cumbersome bore. Even Shah Rukh Khan and Juhi Chawla, who play Banku’s parents in the film, look embarrassed to be participating in such sentimental silliness.

For me Chhota Chetan and Mr India are the ultimate children’s films, at least to come out of India .Bhoothnath, sadly doesn’t compare to either. For one, both Chhota Chetan and Mr India were involving and engaging stories that had heart.

Bhoothnath, seen in its entirety, is a confused film at best. Sure it’s got its moments, but it’s hardly the kind of film you’ll remember years from now. The other reason Bhoothnath doesn’t come anywhere close to a film like Mr India is because it simply doesn’t push the envelope as far as special effects are concerned.

20 years after Mr India and the best Bhoothnath does is show us furniture flying around a room, Bachchan walking in and out of walls, a child’s arm elongating to ridiculous proportions, and some gimmicks involving dried leaves. Such a shame, one would have expected more!

Of the cast, Shah Rukh Khan in a special appearance looks uninspired and unhappy to be there, while the usually dependable Juhi Chawla tends to over-act for no reason.

Some genuinely funny moments are provided by Rajpal Yadav who plays the local drunk, but of course the film belongs to Bachchan and little fellow Aman Siddique who give the film its best moments.

Siddique is sharp and on-the-ball and he turns in a sincere performance, but if I were to pick the one single thing about Bhoothnath that’s superb, then that would be Amitabh Bachchan. He’s perfectly cast, he’s uninhibited as the scruffy, irritable ghost, and even in the film’s tedious bits he’s the only reason you stay in your seats.

I’m going with two out of five and an average rating for director Vivek Sharma’s Bhoothnath, it’s a half-good entertainer that’s saved to some extent by Amitabh Bachchan’s undeniable energy. Take your kids to the film, but make sure you don’t stay longer than intermission!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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