Bhoothnath (2008): Farewell, B. R. Chopra

Bhoothnath was directed by Vivek Sharma and produced by Ravi Chopra under the banner of his late father's organization, B. R. Chopra Productions. Mr. Baldev Raj Chopra, well known for socially conscious film, passed last week. He was 94. See tributes at Bollywood Food Club, Apni East India Company, Filmi Girl, and Rough In Here.

An excellent casting is the primary highlight in Bhoothnath, which has more to offer than a ghost, a kid, and their antics. Aditya Sharma (Shah Rukh Khan) and his wife Anjali (Juhi Chawla, haaye Allah!) arrive in Goa with their son Aman (Aman Siddiqui, nicknamed 'Banku' in the film). They rent Nath Villa, a house owned by Vijay Nath (Priyanshu Chatterjee), whose father Kailash (Amitabh Bachchan) used to live in the house with his mother (Neena Kulkarni) prior to their deaths.

The mere mention of Nath Villa is met with skepticism and negativity by the city dwellers, who believe the house is haunted by a 'bhooth' (ghost). The belief is warranted, as little Aman discovers one night, although he wins over and befriends the spirit of the deceased Kailash he lovingly calls 'Bhoothnath'. They secretly form a little coalition, until Anjali discovers her son isn't lying about his 'angel'. Bhoothnath comes to the fore, and a touching story around Kailash Nath and his son underscores the last hour of the film, which is where the socially conscious brand promise of the production house is maintained.

There's much to like in Bhoothnath. It is a pleasant film with a good screenplay and background score, and delightful color templates. The special effects are interesting, and not overused. Most importantly, the acting is top notch -- little Aman is a revelation -- and the film is an entertainer with a good sense of humor. It is hardly a scary movie (which worked for me even on Halloween weekend), and is successful in achieving its applicability to its primary target market -- the family audience. Some thoughts on the performances:

Juhi Chawla makes up for her disappointing undertakings in Krazzy 4 (discussed here) and Kismat Konnection (discussed here) this year. She is afforded a lot more to work with here, and given she has always had an aptitude for comedy, she excels. Of course, she looks gorgeous as she always does. Her wardrobe and styling complement her character perfectly.

Shah Rukh Khan has an extraordinarily expanded role for a 'special appearance'. He is present in the very first scenes and the very last, and at various moments in between, for a sum of what must have been at least a half hour.

One of my favorite comedians, Rajpal Yadav, is excellent as Anthony the homeless drunkard. He gets relatively little to work with, but is fantastic in his scenes with Juhi and Amitabh. There are a couple of initial sequences with Juhi in particular in which they are both excellent.


Aside: You might recall Juhi, Rajpal, Amitabh, and Shah Rukh were last seen together in Paheli (2005), which also involved a ghost. Interestingly, we hear in the making of Bhoothnath which accompanies the DVD, that the Paheli team had then contemplated using the title of this film.

Satish Shah is the principal of the school Aman attends, and there is an interesting and hilarious subtext to his presence, which you can probably guess from this picture. Add to that his accent, which is well done (although some might consider it mocks the Hindi-speaking among those from a country to the immediate west of Pakistan), and you have the makings of a rather entertaining outing.


On to the two stars to whom the film belongs. Amitabh Bachchan is just superb. It's difficult to imagine anyone else playing the friendly ghost after seeing him effortlessly assume the role of the character. Watch him go through various stages of affection for the child and his parents (the film begins with his dislike of them). He did well under similar circumstances in B. R. Chopra's Baaghban (2003) and Baabul (2006), and he's delivered effortlessly here. Honorable mention to his makeup (complete with fingernails untouched for years!) and wardrobe. All carried very well. Amitabh will be playing the role of the genie in Aladdin, which releases alongside Ghajini on Christmas day!


Aman Siddiqui is the surprising highlight in the film. He is successful in blending innocence with mischief (although this likely applies to all children). There are several scenes shot in a school, in which he does well. And his scenes with all the actors, Amitabh, Shah Rukh, and Juhi, are really quite good. He's got tremendous potential, and I can't imagine we won't see more of him soon. Besides, Juhi seems to have fallen in love with him!


Aside: A cute kid alongside Shah Rukh reminded me of Sana Saeed, who played the role of Anjali Khanna in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998). A fellow Neelam fan, who was mentioned in this infamous scene.
A quick web search reveals the difference 10 years have made.


Bhoothnath is not without its share of flaws. The biggest weakness is its length, almost entirely due to a soundtrack that is below average at best. If the songs were removed, the film would remain unaffected, and would arguably be better overall. Vishal-Shekhar have delivered enough good soundtracks for us to expect a lot better than this.

And it's never good when, even in jest, we almost end up glorifying the 'gangster culture' en route to sexualizing our children (especially the girls), which I thought this song did (especially the frame in the twenty first second). Maybe I'm being too harsh, but it's just not what I expect to see in a film, whether or not it's for children or intended to carry any social message.
Am I the only one who's bothered by it?

On a less serious note, I've given up on Bollywood understanding the difference between rugby and football. The helmets are hopelessly out of sync with the ball and padded gear (see 1:30 in); they're playing rugby with a football while wearing lacrosse helmets?!


Yet, Bhoothnath works for its target audience, including children, who will derive more value from it than from an average Hindi film.
In many ways, its primary messaging is consistent with B. R. Chopra's brand promise. I'm glad I saw the fun entertainer that is not boring except when a song is playing. A big round of applause for the perfect casting of almost the entire team of actors!


Movie rating: 3.5/5 (Good!)

My classification: PG (For theme; family friendly)

Music rating: 1.5/5 (Poor)

Official website (and picture source): BhoothnathTheFilm.com


6 comments:

Joss said...

Thanks for reminding me about this film. I don't know why I haven't seen it. My son loves Hindi films and I'm sure he would like this one. I'll get onto it.

bollyviewer said...

I am so tempted by the movie. Its exactly the kind of story I love and Juhi and SRK (his hamming is usually under control in "special appearances") and Rajpal Yadav. Sigh! There had to be AB and in a big role too. That is usually a deal breaker for me...

And B. R. Chopra was responsible for inflicting Baaghbaan and Baabul on us? OK. He's not my favorite film-maker anymore! ;-)

The Bollywood Lover said...

Banku was so cute in the film! Amitabh ji was good as always. A question - why did you remove the Bhoothnath pic from the header?

-Saurabh-

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi all, and thank you for your comments.


Joss: It should be interesting, and I hope you enjoy it! It's the kind of film I'd expect Walt Disney in India to make. Haven't seen Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic, also from this year, but that one too was thought of as something that might originate from the Disney camp.


Bollyviewer: There's a lot of Juhi in it, and that can never be bad :) Agreed on SRK and his special appearance. I wish there was more of Rajpal Yadav, though. His role was very limited. AB was really very good. And B. R. Chopra had written Baaghbaan and Baabul, yes.


Saurabh: Agreed on Banku! He was a pleasant surprise. Imagine seeing him, Darsheel Safary and Tanay Chadha from Taare Zameen Par, and Ali Haji from Fanaa/Partner, all in one film?! I think we'll hear those names in about 10 or 15 years again! I like that Bhoothnath header, just mixing up the pictures every once in a while. :)


Cheers!

Joss said...

I've seen it now, and yep, agree with all this. I loved the film, and so did my 11 yr old son. He didn't care so much for the songs, but when I explained what thrill it would have been for all those children to take part in them he appreciated them better.

I thought this was the best thing I have yet seen Amitabh Bachchan, which probably says volumes about my ignorance of the man. But still, he was great, wasn't he? My favourite bit was where he walked through the blackboards into the classrooms. Oh wow! The ultimate disruption, but just imagine, the Big B doing that. The teacher would have been thrilled too if she could have seen him! I would have been.

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi Joss: That's great! See, I told you the songs weren't that interesting :) I'm kidding of course. Really glad you and your son enjoyed it! Thanks for your comment.

You most likely know this already, but Amitabh's best works are from the 1970s. He's still a fantastic actor, though, no second thoughts about it. He was great here. And LOL at the blackboard comment! It's true! :)