CAST: Amitabh Bachchan, Parth Bhalerao, Boman Irani, Usha Jadhav, Sanjay Mishra, Brijendra Kala
Bhootnath is one depressed ghost. Deeply humiliated at not having been successful at the one thing all ghosts manage so effortlessly scaring children he asks permission to descend from on high, back to earth, and go boo. Upon which he manages (once again, just like in the prequel Bhootnath) to find the one little tyke who can see him, and off they go to find a fresh set of bhootiya adventures.
Sounds like fun Sure, there is some nicely-done amusement to be had in Bhootnath Returns, and it is not all pandering to juveniles. Shortly after the standard levitating-in-the air-tricks by Bhootnath (Bachchan) and his constant companion Akhrot (Bhalerao), the plot arrives at the point where it sticks, and makes this one of the sharpest Bollywood critiques of the political system in the country.
Hold. Correction. It could have been. The impact of the film is diluted by a central confusion in tone: is this a film for kids fronting a bumbling bhoot and loveable slumboy, or a tried-and-tested all-too-familiar Bollywood take on lets-vote-the-bad-guys-out, and make Indian democracy a great place
Evil neta Bhau (Irani), accompanied by chief chamcha (Kala) and faithful goons, is the epitome of all that is the worst in our politicians. He is cheerfully and relentlessly corrupt and rules over Akhrots slum with an iron hand. The bulk of the film deals with the issue of civic malaise, social injustice, and official apathy, and then zooms off to find solutions: these are heavy things, and the tone gets all muddled, between comic and serious, and then veers alarmingly towards drippy sentimentality.
Reprising his bhoot persona from the earlier film, Bachchan gets much more to do this time around, and some of it is right up his long-jacketed sleeve. But Bachchan cant help being Bachchan, so we hear his shuddh Hindi with pure pleasure, and his tapori lines with a shrug. The best tapori, and the best thing, in the film is undoubtedly Parth Bhalerao, who keeps step with the veteran superstar naturally and easily.
Theres a reference to the high command (such a Congress phrase), and several dialogues about lousy netagiri that cut uncomfortably close to the bone. There are in-house Bollywood jokes (Anurag Kahsyap shows up as himself in a cameo, as a filmmaker who fights against the system, but who looks both delighted and bemused to be in the same frame as Amitabh Bachchan). And theres a real satirical sharpness to some sequences, and a welcome conceit: can only a bhoot set things right in this country because human beings are all beyond the pale
But the whole is less than the sum of its parts. The pace slackens, the ghost-and-boy rap begins to drag, and there are far too many threads hanging a Harry Potteresque compact between bhootlings and earthlings, and a clean-the-system-of-all-ills-romp, overlaid with some weepiness and an item-song-in-the-slums full of blonde babes dancing alongside the Big B and the small boy.
I laughed out loud in a few bits, didnt mind some of it, and blanked out in the rest. Finally it was neither funny nor serious enough: neither fully ghostly nor ghastly, but somewhere in between.