I asked around and datablue confirmed that Bhootnath is a must see for SRK hardcore fans, and T.J Stevens said it was one of her favorite films as a kid (HOW OLD AM I???? I remember when it came out and I was already out of college! I am a MILLION YEARS OLD!!!). So, anyway, I decided to see if I could squeeze it in between getting dressed in the morning and having dinner last night. I totally could! It does not require a lot of attention.
It kind of feels like right now we are in a bit of a children’s film renascence (sp?) in Hindi films. There was that roller skating film last year, and Jagga Jasoos (if it ever comes out) definitely looks child focused. Plus Dhanak, and various other smaller kind of sleeper hits. I guess it makes sense, as the mainstream films become more and more “adult” (Pink, for instance), it makes sense that there would need to be other more “child” films to balance them. The idea of a film like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai which balanced the needs of both audiences is getting further and further away.
Anyway, Bhoothnath isn’t part of that! At least not the first Bhoothnath. Bhoothnath Returns, maybe. But back when Bhoothnath came out I distinctly remember NOT hearing about it. Maybe a vague mention of this odd movie with Amitabh, maybe seeing the posters around. But not the kind of crazy coverage you would normally get for a Shahrukh movie. Like the really thought only children would see or care about the film. But, unlike the Pogo cartoons, film isn’t something that is just piped into the household. They have to actually go to the theater with someone to see a movie. Which is something that I guess didn’t really occur to anyone when they did this odd low-budget film that is an odd fit on to their high-flying resumes.
Vivek Sharma, who came up with the idea and directed it, was just kind of a lowly film worker from what I can see. Worked for Mahesh Bhatt for a while, then for Red Chillies. I’m picturing it less as “brilliant young director made good!” and more as “Nice guy I know from around the office asks me to do a favor and help out in his little movie that no one will see.” I mean, his wikipedia page isn’t even fully filled out!
It does speak well of all involved that they agreed to do their roles. But it speaks well in different ways. For Shahrukh, I am sure this was one of his unpaid courtesy towards a friend type parts. He knew it wouldn’t help his career or challenge him as an actor or make him any money. But it was the nice thing to do, so he did it. For Juhi and Priyanshu Chatterjee, it was a nice thing to do and also SMART! It’s a perfect role for Juhi, very much on-brand with her new position as that nice motherly pretty lady. For Priyanshu, I mean, what else was he going to do? It had been two years since he’d had work. And for Amitabh, it was BRILLIANT!!!
(I always think of Priyanshu as “sexy Jeff Goldblum”. But of course that doesn’t make any sense, because Jeff Goldblum is already sexy)
I just talked about Amitabh’s new post-KBC brand of “India’s Grandpa”. And here he is, actually playing a Grandpa! Plus, it seems like he does sincerely enjoy those kinds of roles. The mugging with the kids, the doing goofy stunts, it just looks like more fun than wandering around in Sarkar robes, you know? It gives me a warm feeling for his character, and also a warm feeling for the actor who agreed to do this part and seemed to enjoy it so much.
All of that is nice, but I have to say, this is still very much a kids movie. As in, I got a little bored watching it. Some of the things that might have seemed hilarious to me when I was little fell a bit flat as an adult. Mostly it made me start thinking about how this film would have been different if it had been more of an adult-film-which-kids-can-watch. But I can’t get into that without getting into SPOILERS.
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Shahrukh is the most “adult” character in the film, which is why he has to be gotten rid of early on. Juhi is everyone’s favorite mother, sweet and kind and loving and good. And doesn’t interfere much with your games. Shahrukh’s character is a great Dad, don’t get me wrong, but when he was onscreen suddenly it was more about the parents interacting and joking about how Juhi doesn’t like her mother-in-law and worrying about Shahrukh’s job, than it was about Banku, our little boy hero.
More than that, Shahrukh just had a very “I’m the grown-up” vibe in this movie. He doesn’t always, even in something like K3G where he was a father again, there was still plenty of goofy faces and all that. I think it was a reaction Banku, the little boy, being such a naughty and fun little boy. It meant that Shahrukh automatically ended up being the yin to his yang, the sober and serious and grown up voice. Juhi was a little freer, she could be a mother but also a bit of a softer feminine version of that same naughtiness and personality.
I knew Shahrukh played the father and that he leaves early in the film, and I thought it would be more of a stressful for the family kind of thing. But really, watching it, I think the only reason he had to leave was because we needed to get to Banku and Juhi on their own so Banku could be the “hero”. Sure, it wasn’t stress-free for Juhi to be a single mother. There were little comments about having a hard time settling in, and needing to make sure they had a nice house and were taken care of while he was gone. But there was no big “The marriage is in trouble! Banku needs a father figure!” kind of concerns. It’s just his job, Shahrukh is gone a lot and they talk to him by phone.
And then Amitabh shows up and, frankly, just isn’t that scary! Even when he is wearing his ghost make-up and doing the booming voice and all. That’s a good thing if I am 8, because I don’t want a scary ghost, I want a funny Amitabh ghost. That’s a bad thing if I am freakishly old, because it makes this part just kind of boring.
And the part after it isn’t much better (notice how fast I am skipping through). Banku and Amitabh start a prank war, a prank goes wrong and Amitabh is apologetic and worried about Banku, and turns into his warm and non-scary supportive grandfather type. Again, if I were 8, I would LOVE this with all the jokes on the teachers and little kid feuds and all that. But as an adult, it just feels slow and poorly acted. Except for Amitabh, he is a delight always. Even when playing a grandfatherly ghost.
It really gets interesting again right at the end when Shahrukh and Priyanshu Chatterjee get involved. Not just because they are both very attractive men, although that certainly doesn’t hurt! But because they are “men”, and once they come in, the film automatically switches into adult-type stuff instead of kiddie stuff.
Banku and Amitabh’s friendship had seemed so happy and harmless. But when Juhi hears Amitabh’s story, and then especially when she calls in Shahrukh, suddenly we are in the realm of the “adults” who can’t as easily accept the idea of a happy ghost friend. Who are aware that there must be some kind of ghost-tragedy in the background.
And the ghost-tragedy is quite interesting. Not the basic set-up, which involves making Priyanshu, and especially his wife, into straight up villains. They leave their saintly parents, Amitabh and his wife, that-lady-who-was-in-a-shed-for-twenty-years-in-Zamaana-Deewana, alone in their house in Goa. They move to America and never call or visit and keep Amitabh from his adorable little grandson. Shed-lady dies of a broken heart after years of this, and Priyanshu and family come back one last time. But only to sell the house!!! Amitabh, upset and furious and heartbroken, goes running down the stairs after them, falls, and dies.
(This woman, she’s been playing mothers for I don’t know how long)
I mean, it’s not really a bad ghost-tragedy. It’s based on some essential human emotions of family and stuff, and simple so a kid can understand the right and wrong of it. It’s just not really interesting.
It gets interesting when they start looking into the resolution of it all. And that’s where Shahrukh really shines. He takes us through this whole scenario without making it feel scary or strange, just like he takes Banku through it. They need to do a ritual to send the ghost Amitabh to the next level, which is just like the next level in a school, nothing to worry about. And the ritual is done in the living room with Banku’s best friend and his mother there, and a nice priest. They even take Banku to the initial meeting with the priest and let him run around and hit prayer bells in the background while they talk. This isn’t a big grown-up mysterious process like paying taxes, this is a thing that grown-ups do but kids can understand and be part of like making dinner. And that all comes from Shahrukh’s perfect safe and trustworthy father vibes. It’s worlds most soothing and safe exorcism ever!
And it even works as kind of a metaphor to deal with these issues in a child-friendly way. Death is just moving on to another level, we do this ceremony to say good-bye and honor our relationships, it’s all very loving and nice and “Grandpa” (or whoever) will always be there in your heart and watching over you.
Priyanshu Chatterjee is there too, to provide our little bit of conflict and resolution. He’s trying to sell the house again and he doesn’t want anything to do with his father-ghost. But we eventually realize, that’s just because of guilt, because of how he left things with his father. He needs this ceremony as much or more than Amitabh. Which is also a nice message about death rituals, that they are there for the living as much or more than the dead.
And then because we are ultimately a kids movie, the ending is a total wish-fulfillment! Ghost-Amitabh was just faking! He is still there, he still loves Banku and their games and jokes can go on, it’s just that all the boring grown-ups don’t have to worry about it any more.
So, generally a nice light film. But it did leave me with one big question:
If we have to choose between peak young actor like Priyanshu Chatterjee, or a bad old version of Shahrukh (not good hair or make-up or anything besides his ship uniform), who do we pick? Is it possible that they meet in the middle?
(The Saathiya Conundrum, as I think of it)