That was a very pleasant movie experience. I wish I’d watched it in a group, or even better in the theater. It was definitely set up for group laughter and enjoyment. Still fun on my own, but less fun. Anyway, I recommend it if you are looking for a light harmless silly comedy! And want to appreciate Shahrukh’s VFX team, as I am sure we all do.
The whole “horror comedy” genre in Indian film is tricky. Because the “horror” stories in India are often created in order to reinforce existing power structures. A comedy has to upend expectations in order to be funny. Which means it has to be brave enough to question those power structures or the humor just won’t land. Based on the trailers for this film, I did not think it was gonna be smart enough or brave enough to question power, and therefore would also not be funny. Good news, I was wrong! It questions power structures all over the place, and also is legitimately funny and surprising!
This is a tricky review, because I can’t really get into why it is funny and surprising without spoiling the surprises for you. So instead I’m just gonna have to give you a whole load of context. First, where the Bhool Bhulaiya story comes from. One of the greatest films in Malayalam history is Manichtrizhu (which is now impossible to watch because Disney owns Hulu and Hulu owns it and Disney doesn’t want us to have subtitles because it would hurt their market). It’s a village story, and essentially it takes all kinds of harmful village superstitions and turns them around and says “no, this is a symptom of mental illness, and if you embrace science and reason you can treat it”. There’s a lot of humor, also a lot of love, and fear, and lots of stuff. It was remade as Bhool Bhulaiya in Hindi with Akshay Kumar, and kept the essentials of the plot and a lot of the humorous moments (plus some more) while removing most of the deep social commentary. Still a little bit of social commentary, because in order to be funny you need the expectation bending. But not much.
Honestly, the best part about the Hindi remake is the title song which is an all time CLASSIC remix of “Hare Krishna Hare Ram”. And the makers of this film know that because they tease the song in the background music through out this movie, before finally giving it to us in the end credits. Pretty sure that’s the whole reason they branded this movie as a sequel, instead of just making it it’s own separate Horror-comedy. It is a little bit like Bhool Bhulaiya in that they both take place in a haunted mansion in a village with complex family dynamics and a female ghost who dances/sings. But really, that’s like half the ghost movies in India anyway.
What makes this movie work is the clever questioning of the patriarchy in the plot, and the down right unusual twist that our hero is a trickster for a good reason. It’s kind of like Stree in that way. We have a female ghost (it’s almost always a female ghost) and our hero is a man who respects the rights of women. He is doing everything in order to upend the patriarchy and bring a small amount of justice, even if that involves some trickery. I appreciate in particular that Kartik Aaryan was cast in this role. His persona is “Trickster” and often it is “trickster tricking women”, but not always. I like that the director was able to see the possibility of him being “trickster FOR women” instead. Oh, and Tabu of course was amazing, it’s a slow burn role but by the end she gets some SUPER fun stuff to do. Again, great casting, powerhouse female performer who isn’t playing a love interest or anything usual. And even in the love interest role, Kiara unfortunately doesn’t get much to do, but the film works better because she has an interesting intelligent presence and we can believe that Kartik would go along with her plans.
So, yes, watch this film! If you are in the mood for a pleasant silly comedy with some good performances and small questioning of the establishment from the Patriarchy to Priests.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
Kiara and Kartik meet while she is about to go home after graduating from med school to have an arranged marriage. They miss a bus and that bus gets into an accident. Kiara calls her family to tell them she is alive, but before she gets someone on the phone she overhears her sister and her fiance talking about how they love each other. She realizes that if she just stays dead a few more days, her family will marry her sister to the fiance. Kartik is a nice guy, so he agrees to help her get home and hide out until the wedding is over. They go to the family’s old mansion that is haunted to hide. But the family notices someone is there and goes in and finds Kartik. Kartik spontaneously lies that he is a medium and can see Kiara’s Ghost, and that the ghost wants her sister to marry her fiance. Lots of hijinks over this harmless lie. But then as part of hiding in the mansion, they open the forbidden room and let out the Ghost. The Ghost is Tabu’s evil twin, Tabu married the man they both loved (a son of the family) and her twin tried to kill her and the husband. Tabu killed her in self-defense and the ghost has been haunting the family since then. Until the ghost corners Kartik and talks to him (turning the lie into truth) and reveals that SHE is the good twin! The Bad Twin killed her and took her place, crippling the husband so she could be the daughter-in-law without needing to deal with a husband. The Bad Twin went on to kill other relatives who figured it out, blaming all the deaths on the ghost. But Kartik listened to the ghost and believed her and finally tricked The Bad Twin into revealing who she really was. The Ghost drags The Bad Twin away into the mansion, and the family drives off leaving them behind again.
So the theme here is “women have to lie and trick and go sideways in order to fight against the traps in which they are stuck”. And our hero is the one who listens to them and helps them fight. Doesn’t tell them what to do, just follows their lead and supports them. That’s actually an improvement on the original, where our hero is the only one who fully understands what is happening and keeps controlling and tricking even the women he is trying to help.
Kiara isn’t in a TERRIBLE situation, just a sort of hard one. She is fully an adult, finished med school, and is engaged to a lovely person. There’s nothing wrong with the marriage except that her sister is in love with the fiance. The hard part is, she knows her family won’t change all these plans at the last minute just because her sister and fiance are in love. So she does a trick instead of confronting the situation, an unselfish loving trick, but still a lie.
The Tabu story, cleverly, is the EXACT SAME THING as Kiara’s story!!! Two sister’s in love with the same man. And instead of talking it out and confronting the problem, Tabu used trickery and faked her death. Only she faked a death in order to take her sister’s place, not in order to let her sister take her place.
The ultimate message of the film isn’t “shut up and marry who you are supposed to marry” but rather “speak out and say what the problem is to the family around you instead of resorting to tricks”. And it is a message that the women get to come to in their own time. Kartik doesn’t say “no Kiara, I won’t do this because you should talk to people” he says “okey-dokey, if that’s what you want”. And when Ghost Tabu comes to him, he doesn’t tell the family the whole story right away, instead he pretends to be possessed by Ghost Tabu in order to scare Evil Tabu into revealing her identity. He lets the situation play out in the way the women want it to play out.
Oh, and also, a traditional family like this LITERALLY sees women as interchangeable. It’s nice that Tabu had to kill so many people, partly because it shows that a lot of people in the family did figure out she wasn’t the same person. But everyone else? They just saw “daughter-in-law”. She wears saris, she organizes weddings, she is proper and polite and slots into that role and that is all that matters. Tabu thrived because society let her thrive so easily. And at the same time Ghost Tabu was turned into an “evil” woman so quickly, no one was willing to listen to her (until Kartik), they just screamed and locked her away. With the support of the priests, those in power, everyone around them.
Oh, and the whole “Tabu double role” thing let Red Chillies VFX do a fantastic job using all the techniques they perfected with Fan.