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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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