We love horror films. Most of us anyway. And we don't get enough good ones, for it is so easy to goof it up, slipping into comedy is sometimes just a make-up muck-up away. But we still like to give it a chance, there's nothing like a good scare now and then, especially if it is happening to someone on a screen and doesn't spill over to intersect our life. So as to our varying masochistic tendencies go, this is one of the safest ventures, the cinematic equivalent of nudging the loose tooth. To feel the tingle. Sending involuntary shivers emanating from the nape and following a dizzy descent down the spine. Hmm. Feels good. The tingle.
If you're an Indian filmgoer, then you have even lesser opportunities to indulge in a slick horror story, having seen/heard umpteen chudail movies set in ruined hotels with poor lighting (budgetary constraints leading to it) and make-up with clay (also seen recently in Sunny Deol's The Hero, where the concept of a disguise was merely to look different from the rest of humankind and not to be confused with the art of camouflage). But when a director of the panache of Ram Gopal Varma tells the world that he's made a movie called Bhoot, many chose not to believe him literally. Despite the fact that Rangeela was a colourful movie, Satya had a character called exactly that and Daud had people (including the audiences) running for cover, no one believed him. Instead they chose to believe baseless rumours.
Pause to ask rhetoric question. What does one call an attempt to spoil a spoiler? Well, if you don't know and hadn't heard of the spoiler in the first place and don't want anything spoilt, thank you, should probablly close their eyes now. Or now. Now would do too. That was the last chance. Ok, once more. Now)
The rumour went that There is no ghost in Bhoot and Tanuja is the murderer. Having not known that Tanuja was even in the (already brimming) cast, that statement had a lot of what-we-call data, wanted and un-. But I'm a patient person, and have heard a lot of spoilers in my time, so it didn't affect me. (The way I look at it, think of it as a film in which the ending is revealed in the beginning. It then becomes a question of how did they get there. Think Lester Burnham telling you in the open sequence of American Beauty that he'll be dead in a year, and you get the idea.) But now that I think of it, the rumour must've been spread by the makers themselves. Because, and this is the spoiler-spoiler, Tanuja isn't the murderer, and even more plot-revealing, there is a ghost. Relief now that I've got beans lying all around and an empty can. All the interviews RGV did before Bhoot, he made sure to mention there was a ghost, all 9 meter white sari of it. As I said, RGV usually gives what he promises. So ya wanted one, ya got it.
That now settled, one can go on to the actual business of being rattled and doing the old stomach-churn. I've rarely seen movie reviews in which everyone seems to agree on the main points but this film has spawned them. The movie begins off well, the spine-tingles are woven in well, the second half fizzles in front of you like the trail of a disappearing genie and the performances are mixed. RGV uses the usual cinematic devices of eerie background music, sinister camera movements, semi-dark settings and oddball characters. These contribute to a scary first half, with the entry of the ghost itself being as good as the good ol' scenes of Amitabh crashing through a fake wall. There are quite a few chilling sequences, but you see less and less of them as we reach post 60 minutes. And therein appears the knowing filmgoer's shrug of the shoulder.
The more-than-knowing filmgoer will then shrug the other shoulder too, what with there being too much familiarity about the story, a lot of deja vu in the direction of RGV's own Raat and the classic The Exorcist. And I can quote a few instances, but will not. RGV definitely has a sense of cinematic history, so he couldn't have been blind to this. So either he chose to be "inspired", or simply made a tribute to the genre. But whatever the shortcomings, I would think Bhoot is easily the slickest horror film made in India. There's still long way to go, though.
Coming to the much-vaunted performances, RGV (and many others) think this has been Urmila Matondkar's best ever performance. I thought hard about it, but still couldn't convince myself of that. I think this would be No.3, after Satya and Kaun. Kaun is a little closer to Bhoot, but Satya was and remains a radically different role for her. The de-glamourised, naive singer's range of expressions from struggling to keep a household alive to the heart-break in the climax where a sense of hopelessness and betrayal permeate her horror at what the truth really was marked her acting abilities. Ajay Devgan is wasted, seriously, but it was a little inevitable after the scope in Company. And why-o-why do Seema Biswas and Nana Patekar look like ordinary actors? When Nana Patekar says in an attempt-at-ironic-humour that he didn't understand what he himself said, he couldn't have said it better about his own role. A similar ironic fate befalls Victor Banerjee. Roused up from Calcutta (or wherever he lives) to come to Mumbai and then be unused is encapsulated in his brief role when his psychologist-character is abruptly asked to leave by Ajay Devgan. Picture RGV saying to Banerjee, "well, it's like this, we wanted to make a really cool horror movie, and we don't think it's a good idea to have a scientific explanation to it all, you see. So we've got this really wierd counter-character that is in opposition to all that you represent, so goodbye, it was good to have your comeback in our film. Cheers." Or something to that effect.
And the replacement is of course, Rekha. Every horror film has its bizarrely made-up character. In The Exorcist, it was the Devil. In Bhoot, it is Rekha. And as for Tanuja, if she had to be the murderer, well, she sure doesn't have much footage to do it in. And for Fardeen Khan, his could be best described as a competent cameo!
But still, go watch the movie. This is commendable for the length of movie, lack of songs, good audio and video techniques and a ghost. Or two. Hmm. That was good.