Off the screen, the general elections are in full swing. So, on it, silly season, willy-nilly, is well and truly underway.
In early March, we were witness to a bitter battle of attrition between a feisty vigilante and a creepy lady politician in a rural outpost in Gulaab Gang.
A couple of weeks back, we travelled to Youngistaan, where a suave young man found himself stepping into the shoes of the Prime Minister of India.
And now, Bhoothnath Returns to cleanse the nation by taking on the might of a ruthless and self-serving politico in his Mumbai lair.
The law of diminishing returns is catching up. That is not to say that the sequel to 2008’s Bhoothnath is completely devoid of merit.
This time around, the genial ghost, egged on by a spunky young friend from Dharavi, assumes the guise of a spirited crusader for change in a God-forsaken, water-starved, squalid, poverty-stricken cluster of shanties.
The film’s good intentions and the generally competent and controlled execution are marred by a screenplay riddled with inconsistencies.
For one, Bhoothnath Returns, directed and co-written by Nitesh Tiwari, is overlong and overstretched.
It labours its point about the plight of the poor and the voiceless with the kind of unconcealed zeal that not only robs it of any possibility of achieving subtlety, but also smacks of the hollowness of an election time speech.
The film’s unusual plot premise loses its zing rather quickly as it turns increasingly ludicrous and sanctimonious in its naïve tirade against a whole array of ills that plague the country.
The final quarter of Bhoothnath Returns could well be passed off as an Election Commission of India video exhorting people to exercise their franchise and overthrow the corrupt.
Shahrukh Khan and Ranbir Kapoor put in fleeting appearances to add weight to the campaign.
But the questions do not go away. Why on earth would a ghost, who is back in India to reclaim his lost mojo, need to plunge into the hurly-burly of an election in order to set things right?
Doesn’t he possess the supernatural chops to bring Dharavi’s exploitative councillor to book with the snap of a finger?
If Bhoothnath is invisible to all but one, why do most of the characters that he encounters seem to be seeking eye contact in the course of conversations with him?
The film does occasionally play on Bhoothnath’s invisibility but slips up more often than not.
In one scene, the ghost’s upright lawyer (Sanjay Mishra, as good as ever) asks, “Bhoothnathji kidhar hai” before addressing him.
But in another scene, he turns to the ghost and talks to him as if he can see him in flesh and blood.
The dead and gone Kailash Nath, aka Bhoothnath (Amitabh Bachchan), referring to the world of ghosts somewhere in the clouds where it seems only departed Indians end up, tells another character “not to expect too much” from the place.
If that advice is taken with regard to the film as a whole, one might actually enjoy parts of it.
Once the prelude spelling out Kailash Nath’s predicament as a ghost who could not even scare a little boy in the first outing is out of the way, Bhoothnath Returns delivers a few mildly funny moments.
This sexagenarian Dharavi Casper runs into another Banku who can see him and chat him up at will.
The boy is the street smart Akhrot (Parth Bhalerao), who taps his friendship with Bhoothnath to frighten the convent school boys of the neighbourhood into letting him play cricket with them on the grounds of an abandoned bungalow.
In the early banter between the ghost and the boy, they accuse each other of resorting to overacting. “India mein overacting chalta hain,” Akhrot intones sagaciously.
These stray self-deprecating jokes give way to deadly serious business as the unlikely duo decides to make some money by helping builders rid their incomplete properties of troublesome and unhappy spirits that refuse to vacate.
A few successes later, Akhrot’s fame spreads. He is summoned by local political strongman Bhau (Boman Irani) to rid a building of the spirits of poor souls that have been displaced by the construction project.
When the do-gooders refuse to do Bhau’s bidding, all-out war ensues. But it takes ages for it to reach its crescendo.
Bhoothnath Returns belongs almost entirely to Parth Bhalerao. In his first Hindi film, the teenager delivers an exceptionally effortless performance.
The ghost isn’t meaty enough to test a seasoned actor like Amitabh Bachchan. Bhoothnath Returns is a leisurely stroll in the park for him.
Boman Irani’s mean politician caricature isn’t menacing enough to give anybody sleepless nights, leave alone a ghost who rocks.
Will Bhoothnath Returns be able to bhooth-capture the box office? It might not lose its deposit, but it does not look like it is in with a chance to romp home with a big margin.