Having served as an Assistant Director for the original Malayalam film, Manichithrathazu (The Ornate Lock), starring Mohanlal, Shobhana, and Suresh Gopi, Priyadarshan has taken it upon himself to remake the film in Hindi as Bhool Bhulaiya. The film has also been remade in Kannada and Telugu, and more famously in Tamil, with Rajnikant in the lead.
Having unleashed a spate of shallow, loud, and situational gag oriented comedies, all of which were remakes of various Malayalam films, Bhool Bhulaiya requires Priyadarshan to tackle something that he had no need to engage with so far; namely a script that revolves around the psychological perturbation of one of the characters. This perturbation causes certain effects, all of which we see in sequence as the film unspools. The cause is revealed towards the end, and justifies the climax of the film. All the major characters in the film are part of the “Great Indian family”; so we have the karta and his sister, their respective spouses and children, and the nephew who has just returned from America with his new bride. The only non ‘family’ character who is significant is the psychiatrist, played by Akshay Kumar.
The director is unable to decide whether he would like the film to be a comedy or sound a more serious note; the first half sees him trying to squeeze laughter from the audience by forcing the ‘senior family’ members to act like half wits, while the second half suddenly becomes somber and doom laden. This necessitates a sudden change in the character of the psychiatrist, who until then is only too happy to ham it up loudly with the other members of the family.
Unfortunately this sudden shift in mood leaves the viewer laughing at or at the very least contemplating this ‘serious’ part of the film, which includes the climax, with mild amusement. The director is unable to create and sustain an ambience and a tempo that involves the viewer and has him or her empathizing with the collective ordeals of the family members, as well as that of the lead protagonist.
From a slightly more abstract perspective, the film can be seen as a clash between western rationality and religious superstitition (as embodied in myths and a belief in the occult) and represented in the film as a clash between two generations: one steeped in rituals and esoteric practices and living in a ‘Hindu small town’, and the other, embodied through modern and western educated characters who hold ‘professional’ occupations. This theme is further exemplified in the film through the character of the psychiatrist and his ‘modern’ psychology versus the mumbo jumbo of the religious priests.
Towards the end of the film a change is shown happening to one of the characters. This change could possibly be interpreted as an omnivorous female sexuality reasserting itself in the face of insipid patriarchal matrimony!!!! This sexuality is subversive and threatening to the existing patriarchal order and hence the psychiatrist (male, of course) helps restore order and put things in their proper place.
The cast has little to do in the film as they are playing out stereotypes; a fine actor like Shiney Ahuja is reduced to either bland acceptance or frothing rage, Amisha Patel weeps and moans throughout in a shrill voice, Vidya Balan is all sunshine and cheer, while Asrani, Paresh Rawal, and Manoj Joshi alternately rant and rave or are busy trying to look scared. Akshay Kumar does his best, but the sudden shift in the script from the comic to the darkly tragic, pulls the stuffing out of his performance. Vineeth has been chosen for a non-consequential role, only for his terpsichorean prowess. Rajpal Yadav is a total waste, not his fault, as his screen time runs to about five minutes or so. Sabu Cyril’s art direction is adequate, though he overdoes his bit in the crowd scenes and peoples the frame with too many holy men. The songs are a distraction and come in the way of the script seeking to build and maintain psychological tension.
The climax is worthwhile, but unfortunately the emphasis on comedy in the earlier part of the film, completely ruins it. The director could have reined himself in and set a bleak and ominous approach which would have made the film taut but does not do so, possibly because of the ‘comic’ expectations that the audience has of him. One wonders whether one would ever get to see realistic cinema in mainstream Bollywood; even when the themes are realistic, the execution reduces them to crude buffoonery or a stylized gore fest. One waits for the day.
This review is by guest reviewer Anand S. Anand lives in Pune and is a Miscellaneous Culture Vulture. He is deeply interested in music, food, books, films, and intelligent women. He views himself as a Falstaffian figure, who does his best to indulge his appetites.
Thumbs up, by Akshay Shah, Akshay Shah : ...Priyadarshan has opted to make his version a lot more realistic which is a noticeable change from the types of films he’s been directing lately.... full review
Thumbs up, by Surya Ragunaathan, J.A.M : ...Bhool Bhulaiya has just the right ingredients of a successful movie - adequate amount of comedy, suspense and thrill to keep you at the edge of your seats throughout... full review
Thumbs up, by Vaibhav Wankhede, M TV : ...Although the film is very regressive at times and there are some factual inaccuracies, Priyadarshan is successful in givng the film an eerie feel and yet retaining the playfulness of the characters... full review
Thumbs up, by Abhishek Singh, Planet Bollywood : ...The story just keep one believing that you are in for a hilarious ride but prepare yourself for an unforeseen ride in the second half!... full review
Thumbs down, by Nikhat Kazmi, Times of India : ...Akshay arrives only a few minutes before interval and leaves you tackling reels and reels of yawny yarns about inconsequential village folk... full review
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This page has additional observations, other than the ones noted in the main review.
Warning: this section has some details that could distort your experience while watching the movie. I strongly recommend reading this only after you have seen the movie or if you have decided not to see it.
A newly married couple returns to a small town from America, and inhabit their family mansion. The mansion has a secret, and strange events are set in motion when the bride unlocks a forbidden room.