Bhoot: Part One Review: Dharma Productions, Please Leave Horror Alone

Bollywood

Bhoot: Part One Review: Dharma Productions, Please Leave Horror Alone

Illustration: Arati Gujar

There is something to be said about the misguided confidence of Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions announcing franchises for movies without testing their fate at the box-office first. Ayan Mukherji’s unreleased, star-studded fantasy drama, Brahamastra, for instance, is scheduled to be in three parts. Similarly, this week’s release, Bhanu Pratap Singh’s Bhoot has “Part One” in its title, which, given the unbearable pretentiousness of the 114-minute film, is a scary threat. By now, the production house’s tendency to make movies solely as business propositions should come as no surprise, but even by their standards of missing the mark, the dullness of its recent outings should warrant some reflection.

The reputation of the Hindi horror genre is not much to write home about. Over the years, Bollywood has gone out of its way to make the genre a refuge for actors seeking comebacks, near-discarded scripts, and melodrama that parodies itself. In that sense, the expectations from Bhoot were at really low – the film had a chance to stand out even without doing a whole lot. Even then, the laborious movie fails to live up to its ingenious premise, marred by a half-baked plot, repetitive cliches, and a jarring aesthetic.

Bhoot is the kind of film that Johar will label as “high concept” in innumerable interviews

Bhoot is the kind of film that Johar will label as “high concept” in innumerable interviews, which in the Dharma universe is shorthand for films that only give you the illusion of being smart. The only consistent thing about it are its inconsistencies. The film revolves around a deserted ship, a haunted protagonist with a tragic past, and Ashutosh Rana’s ghost from Raaz. In it, Prithvi (Vicky Kaushal) is a shipping officer grieving the accidental death of his wife and kid, who is tasked with investigating an abandoned ship that washes up on Juhu beach. That the ship, nicknamed Seabird, is haunted is generously spoon-fed as is the fact that Prithvi is an unreliable protagonist faced with evil spirits, his guilt translates into hallucinations. Any time something spooky is about to happen, the script plays Captain Obvious in the worst possible ways.

For his part, Kaushal is earnest to a fault, physically and emotionally exerting himself in scene after scene to offer up a portrait of a man defeated by himself. But the abrupt screenplay doesn’t have the smarts to etch out Prithvi as a convincing character. It’s not entirely clear why he is drawn to the mystery ship despite seeing and hearing things onboard first-hand. The film’s preferred mode of explaining its own plot is just magically placing clues and ghost-detectors as and when it is convenient. Sure, most Hindi horror films employ a dose of convenience and contrivance to make their case, but Bhoot abuses that privilege to an extent where even the jump-scares start feeling comforting. For a film that brings nothing new to the genre, Bhoot’s reveal isn’t even that hard to guess, given the film’s steadfast refusal to take any leap of faith. There’s very little point to watching Bhoot, apart from developing a fondness for the time Dino Morea and Bipasha Basu used to be chasing ghosts.

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