By Manik Sharma Sep. 11, 2021
Bhoot Police is anchored by a terrifically unhinged Saif Ali Khan who along with other adept performances gives us a film that though formulaic has its fair share of entertainment and memorable moments.
Ghosts and ghost stories have become a cinematic obsession of late. For centuries these they have been a social and cultural obsession as well. Our ideas of faith and belief are educated by both, what we believe and what we fear. For centuries religion and faith have been borrowing from the unknown, just the right amount of narrative juice to keep the flag of custom and tradition flying.
Most Indians believe certain things to be true, because they fear the consequences of disbelief and denial. It’s understandable then that it has taken almost a century for India to critique, though in a calculated manner, the existence of superstition. Disney+Hotstar’s Bhoot Police is another chapter in the ever expanding cinematic world ghosts and spirits. And though some of its ideas are revisionist, and dote back to old tropes, it is a fun ride, thanks largely to a terrific turn by the jolly Saif Ali Khan.
Bhoot Police tells the story of two brothers, who, like their father are tyring make a living by exorcising ghosts. While the elder brother, Vibhuti, played by a whacky Saif Ali Khan sees the profession as a means to an end, his younger brother, Chiraunji, a decent Arjun Kapoor, performs his duty with a sense of righteousness. Both brothers are approached by Maya, a typically graceful Yami Gautam playing perhaps herself (a girl from Himachal) to help rid her tea plantation in the hills of Dharamshala, from the terror of the ‘Kichkandi’.
So the numbers fall right, Maya has a petite sister, in the surprisingly disarmed Jacqueline Fernandez. Both brothers land in the hills to ‘investigate’ the property and the story behind the estate that has been left to the two sisters. There is chaos, meta-humour and sequences that are referential and yet, effective. Saif’s careless energy is a thing in itself and it pulls you in despite its despicability.
Saif is having a blast here, and though his acting could be seen as caricaturist at times, his loose-handedness with morality makes him the anchor of a world egging to otherwise take itself too seriously.
What makes Bhoot Police work is its studied portrayal of the local people, their language and behaviourisms. Gautam gets to train her mother tongue, and the humour that comes out of these organic exchanges is a cultural antiquity in itself. The meta humour, though risky territory, largely hits the mark as well. In one scene, a terrified husband attempts to push through a strained bowel movement when he is asked by his wife, in no uncertain terms, “How’s the Josh?”.
In another scene, Saif addresses a gathering of plantation workers and riles them up with the chant of “Go Kichkandi, Kichkandi go.” In most ensemble pieces these attempts at humour may have seemed cheap, but here they work and are perhaps evidence of the ensuing relevance of our bizarre reality. There are pot shots at Bollywood too. “Nepotism ne pura desh barbaad kar diya hai” Jaqueline announces, accusingly about the two brothers trying to do their father’s job.
Thankfully, the film’s setting in the hills doesn’t crowd it with hill-related clichés of misty mountains and psychedelic nerds. The outsiders remain the weirdest blokes on screen and its through their personalities that we get to figure the context. Also, Bhoot Police, like Hotstar’s Lootcase, is carefully balanced to appeal to a multi-generational audience. Enough boundaries are teased; some are pushed but none are really broken.
Saif is having a blast here, and though his acting could be seen as caricaturist at times, his loose-handedness with morality makes him the anchor of a world egging to otherwise take itself too seriously. In a way Saif is a counter-point to the whole premise and it’s his apathy that plays out like a character in itself. He seems to be enjoying himself more than anything else in the film and it shows. Kapoor, though given the role of the restrained younger brother, is equally adept when it comes to balancing Saif’s lunacy and immaturity. It’s a well-greased wheel, the chemistry between the two.
Bhoot Police isn’t exactly ingenious or inventive. It draws from the notion of disbelief and patently weak guts, the idea of shock and fear. Most characters are lit up in the face of horror and through their animated exteriors we gather, not their palpitating hearts but their listless screams and paranoia. It’s amusing really, how horror as a genre can written between the extremes of both humour and dread. Then again it’s a question of perspective, of how we wish to understand or interpret the inexplicable, the unknown. Bhoot Police doesn’t concern itself too much with the humanitarian quests at its core, as much as it does with reactive humans who can’t figure what they are experiencing. Watch it largely for the ride and not for the destination because Bhoot Police strikes most boxes you’d want a popcorn entertainer to.