Director – Pavan Kirpalani
Cast – Saif Ali Khan, Arjun Kapoor, Yami Gautam, Jacqueline Fernandez
Critic’s Rating: 2.0/5
Bhoot Police out on Disney+ Hotstar
Bhoot Police movie review: Despite enthusiastic performances by Saif Ali Khan and (surprisingly) Jacqueline Fernandez, the new horror-comedy relies too heavily on cliches and is stuck being mildly amusing.
More funny than it is scary, Bhoot Police is undone by poor casting and an acute deficiency of Pankaj Tripathi. Starring Saif Ali Khan and Arjun Kapoor as sibling ghost-busters, Bhoot Police is the latest in Bollywood’s ongoing flirtation with the horror-comedy genre.
While it isn’t as eye-winkingly sharp as Saif’s Go Goa Gone, Bhoot Police is still a mildly amusing movie with moments of surprising emotional depth. But its over-reliance on genre cliches – expect everything from projectile vomit and wall-crawling ghouls to a creepy kid and a haunted forest – stops it from ever being more than a middling film that aims to please the masses.
Director Pavan Kirpalani borrows liberally from Evil Dead, Ghostbusters, Zombieland and The Exorcist, but perhaps the biggest inspiration – both tonally and intellectually – is Scooby Doo. Not only do the brothers Chiraunji and Vibhooti drive around in a Mystery Machine-esque van, they soon form a sort-of ‘gang’ with sisters Maya and Kanika (Yami Gautam and Jacqueline Fernandez). There is even a ‘pardafash’ moment midway through, but I won’t get into that.
The mismatched duo – Vibhooti is a rapscallion and Chiraunji is the sort of person who’d have carried the burden of family expectations in his youth – are in the ‘tantric’ business. Fortunately for them, they were born in a society whose very survival hinges on superstitions. Business, therefore, is booming.
But while Chiraunji is a firm believer in the supernatural, armed as he perpetually is with his father’s ghost-hunting manual, Vibhooti is the skeptic; he approaches every new case with the aim to debunk the claims. The brothers’ ideological clashes make for engaging interpersonal conflict, and Kirpalani even gives them a watered-down version of that famous Ricky Gervais-Stephen Colbert atheism argument at one point early on. Vibhooti describes his brother as the ‘bhooton ka antenna’ and himself as the ‘bhooton ka x-ray’.
He senses a money-making opportunity when a woman named Maya approaches them at some sort of ‘tantric’ fair and hires them to solve a supernatural mystery at her hometown in the mountains. And so, tailed by a Punjabi Inspector Clouseau played by Jaaved Jaaferi and burdened by daddy issues, Chiraunji and Vibhooti take the lady up on her offer and arrive at her supposedly haunted Dharamshala tea plantation.
There is no doubt in my mind that Bhoot Police would have fared better had Kirpalani had made more courageous casting choices. Saif and Arjun are too urbane to play these characters, and their polished accents often betray them. Even with the same exact script, the film could’ve been instantly improved had, say, Vijay Raaz, or Saif’s frequent collaborator Deepak Dobriyal been cast in the lead roles. But alas, we must judge Bhoot Police for what it is, and not on the basis of what we want it to be.
And it isn’t bad at all. Attention has been paid to the world-building, and fleshing out (at least some of) the central characters. Vibhooti spends his spare-time catching up on episodes of Naagin, and is also partial to back-issues of Playboy, both of which are funny details. Arjun is sort of left in the dark, however; saddled with a character that is frankly too vanilla to be interesting. His Chiraunji comes across as the sort of front-bencher that people like Vibhooti would flick spit-balls at from the back of the class. And instead of walking up to them and giving it back, he’d complain to the teacher.
The women don’t fare any better, for similar reasons. Yami Gautam’s Maya is too straight-laced to register, and there’s little that the actor could’ve done with the material she’s been given. But to my surprise, Jacqueline Fernandez rose to the occasion as Maya’s deceptively dumb sister Kanika.
On a technical level, however, Bhoot Police is rather bumbling, even by the already sketchy standards of Hindi horror-comedies. I have to mention the mid-shot dissolves that are peppered throughout the film, by mistake, I hope. Initially, I chalked it down to a Hotstar glitch, but then it happened again, and again, and again. It’s all very strange, and the mystery kept me occupied for a good 20-minute stretch in the middle when the film lags a little bit. But who’s to say if this was even an error; remember those spontaneous mid-scene blackouts in The Big Bull?
There’s a solid film in there somewhere, but Kirpalani and co. are too preoccupied with providing wholesome entertainment for the family to push the more provocative buttons of the plot. Perhaps the sequel that they tease could iron out some of these creases?