It was interesting reading the readers’ take on Ms. Deepa Gumaste’s review of Ram Gopal Varma’s Bhoot. Apart from many who chose to get personal about things, there was a vocal section that believed that though appreciating Hollywood films comes very easily to Indian critics, they seldom find anything good in Hindi movies. And this after Ms. Gumaste was profuse in her appreciation of the film in the first seven paragraphs of the review!
Hollywood is not the final word on quality cinema. It never was. It was not before it used its money muscle to literally pull the best European talent to the American mainland. It has not been since big studios buried tender human stories under war ships, space ships and plain old-fashioned ships! But the argument is not whether our Company scores over their Gangs Of New York or not. The argument is whether we do accept the various shortcomings in our films or not.
Bhoot carries about four spine-chilling scenes, an outstanding performance by Urmila Matondkar and great camera and sound wizardry. And yes, a good captain in Varma, who makes sure that the film is worth at least one watch for any of the aforementioned hightlights. But whatever happened to the rest of the elements of the film?
Let’s see why, apart from the aforementioned superlative differences, the film ends up, especially and almost completely in the second half, being any other Indian horror film.
“The film does not have screeching doors, does not show a woman walking with candle in her hands and is not filmed in an isolated haveli” is what was floated as one of the more intellectually gifted USPs of the film.
The above claim is absolutely true and we are thankful to Varma for that. But Bhoot still has pretty much everything else of other bhoot films. The biggest being the reason that causes the birth of the story. It is absolutely beaten to death and unimaginative. From dacoit vendetta to Nag-Nagin revenge to modern day delayed-justice stories, the germ of Varma’s Bhoot has been used everywhere.
Sure, Bhoot does not have an Anupam Kher with a weird hair-do in the role of a tantrik who knows everything. But Rekha does try to match that with her own tantrik act. She looks totally unbelievable, acts like someone in Zee Horror Show and adds wood to the theory that at least some women are from Venus. The character played by Rekha must surely rank itself as a top contender for the Weirdo Of The Year award.
Sure, Bhoot does not have an old caretaker who makes food and opens rooms for a group of youngsters in a desolate haveli or farmhouse. But it has Seema Biswas wiping the floor with similar effect for Ajay-Urmila, who, incidentally, live at a perennially desolate floor. Seema Biswas, playing a Bai, looks, talks and behaves in a manner that seems a very blatant effort on the part of the writer/director to build tension. Of course, Swati (Urmila) doesn’t think so in the movie. For, she asks the Bai to come to work from the next day after speaking good two sentences with her. And we’re talking of appointing a maid in Mumbai city!
The patrons of B-grade bhoot films would be happy to know that on the watchman front, Varma’s film scores even with earlier bhoot films! The watchman doesn’t speak much, stares and knows a lot. Ironically, the very reason that can help explain his character makes his continued presence in the watchman’s chair a little hard to digest.
Then there is an old lady who does not utter a single word (in the film) and at least once leaves the door open to let two strangers get into her apartment, talk and go back.
Surprisingly, the writer/director duo tries to negate the effect of all of the above by introducing a caricature like police inspector (Nana Patekar). In B-grade films this role goes to the hero of the film, who often is Javed Khan. Add to that a helpless doctor and a bewildered mother and you stop worrying about things!
The arrival of Fardeen finally confirms that the film is after all a sophisticated version of earlier Indian bhoot films.
The article is not to show Bhoot in a poor light. In spite of everything, it is one of the better Hindi films running in theatres. It is just to underline the fact that even good Indian films, made by India’s most gifted (ever) directors often leave a loose end too many.
Now compare our films with the recent stuff by “their” top directors. Catch Me If You Can (Spielberg), Road To Perdition (Sam Mendes), The Pianist (Roman Polanski) and freshman Rob Marshall’s Chicago.
It is not about scale or in simple terms, the money involved. Scale is determined to a very great extent by the subject. Bhoot required barely 3 major locations (the apartments, IMAX theatre and his office place) and had the luxury of being enacted by giants of Indian acting fraternity. The visual special effects were also not too large. So, reiterating the point, it is not about the scale.
It is about a penchant for perfection and the pressure of delivering only the best. The stakes are so very high in Hollywood that directors cannot afford to go wrong. Whereas in India big league directors like Varma, who is arguably one of the finest Indian directors, can get away with an “overall nice” film.
Sixth Sense by M Night Shyamalan cost about $35 million. We have reasons to believe that given even half of that budget Varma can make just as good a film if not better. But if a Tigmanshu Dhulia can make a Haasil for Rupees 4 Crores, shouldn’t Varma, with infinitely better rsources, create a more complete work?