Synopsis – A ghost reaches out to two bumbling ghostbusters for a business idea. However, their plans go downhill as the eerie ghost reveals her plan.
My Take – With conventional horror as a genre drying up in last decade or so, the Hindi film industry lately, owing mainly to the massive success of Stree (2018), has been finding itself quite allured to the concept of mixing scares with humor with mixed results.
Joining the trend is this latest from Excel Entertainment, which though initially seemed like an Indian version of the Ghostbusters franchise, is anything but. Instead it sits squarely in the middle of the mindless comedy genre, where the horror is disposable and everything else is downright silly, nonsensical and fun.
Very smartly written, but not quite so well-executed, director Gurmmeet Singh‘s horror comedy has its own set of pros and cons, however, the film’s self-awareness of the silliness on display is apparent, and it never tries to take itself too seriously, without losing sight of the essential logistics of providing entertainment.
Despite suffering from the ‘infamous second half syndrome’, writers Ravi Shankaran and Jasvinder Singh Bath ensure a heavy dose of laughter throughout with an outrageously quirky plot, while effectively using the magnetic screen presence of Katrina Kaif, Ishaan Khattar and Siddhant Chaturvedi to tickle every palate.
The story follows Galileo Parthasarathy aka Gullu (Ishaan Khatter) and Sherdil Shergill aka Major (Siddhant Chaturvedi), two good-for-nothing self-proclaimed horror film enthusiasts who strive to make a successful career out of all things horror and macabre. Even their home consists of varied elements of horror and spooky with references from the Ramsay films and the Indian version of Frankenstein, Raka. Yet, they fail to make a decent living despite possessing the passion and knowledge of the genre.
That is until they get electrocuted while hosting a horror-themed party, and find themselves acquiring the power to see ghosts and ghouls. However, their lives take an interesting turn when they stumble upon Ragini (Katrina Kaif), a gorgeous wandering spirit, who sells them the idea to open their own ghost hunting shop, which she will help succeed in return or a favor which she’ll ask at the correct time.
But as the trio begin their transition of helping lost souls attain salvation, their efforts fall under the attention of Atmaram Dhyani (Jackie Shroff), an evil Tantrik who has been using the dead for his own nefarious schemes for a long time.
The best part of the film is its concise pace and the smooth gags especially in the first half. The part where the two male protagonists are thrust into the business and face a comedy of errors while solving their cases is seamlessly entertaining. While the story is no doubt weak and has little new to offer, yet the film’s biggest success comes from the fact that is that it never takes itself seriously. Carefully curating sequence after sequence, dialogue after dialogue, which acts as a pop-culture buffet.
From Katrina Kaif’s Slice ads to K3G homages to various references to Indian Matchmaking, Mirzapur, Fukrey and Jackie Shroff playing the Hero (1983) theme tune on a flute, the film dabbles in everything, managing to be a laugh riot effectively using these gags in the right intervals. Having said that, the film lags in terms of pace in the first half till Atmaram’s introduction into the mix.
That changes the film’s gear for the better, but it also makes the eventual conflict in the second half somewhat predictable. There are minor but unmissable loopholes at a few junctures. The film also takes certain creative liberties which should have been avoided completely, and that would have made the narrative even more engaging and entertaining. And the climax too is a bit of a letdown with the antagonist hyped up throughout as this all-powerful evil is defeated in a rather silly manner.
One could see tantalizing possibilities but the necessary emotions, especially regarding Ragini’s back story doesn’t dig deep enough to hit the required notes. But while the execution may be deemed chaotic and messy, it is the performances that keeps the supernatural comedy afloat.
Without a doubt, Siddhant Chaturvedi and Ishaan Khatter seem to be having the time of their life, mouthing some hilarious one-liners and delivering them with a swag. While Chaturvedi, essaying the brash and quick-on-the-draw Major, fits the bill. But the actor who walks away with the film, and quite effortlessly at that, is Khattar. As the nerdy Gullu, he brings both charm and spunk to bear upon his performance.
It is a delight to watch Katrina Kaif return to the big screen. She makes it a point to ensure that her presence doesn’t overpower the narrative; she establishes her bro-code with the boys, and delivers an effortless performance, playing on her strengths. Jackie Shroff also surrenders to the absurdist mood, and is hilarious and delightful as the villain, who is a spoof of every horror villain ever. In smaller roles, Sheeba Chadha, Nidhi Bisht, Manu Rishi Chadha, Manuj Sharma and Kedar Shankar are excellent. On the whole, ‘Phone Bhoot’ is a hilarious horror comedy that makes for a fun watch despite all the grievances.
Directed – Gurmmeet Singh
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 136 minutes