After Luka Chuppi and Pati Patni our Woh, both of which failed to successfully resonate with Indian audiences as much as his monologues in the raunchy Pyaar ka Punchnama, Bollywood actor Kartik Aaryan was seen returning to the big screen over the weekend as the lead actor in director Anees Bazmi’s horror-comedy Bhool Bhulaiya 2, alongside the likes of Kiara Advani, Tabu, Rajpal Yadav and Sanjay Mishra.
And while sequels may be a tricky business in Bollywood—something that Bazmee knows better than anyone since he directed Welcome Back, which disgraced the original rib-tickling comedy—it seems like this particular movie has all the elements needed to do the one thing that Indian audiences absolutely crave: entertain.
The film revolves around a fast-paced plot with sharp twists and turns. Kiara Advani (Reet) takes Aaryan (Ruhaan Randhawa) back to her hometown to orchestrate a farce of her death so that she can escape her arranged marriage. The basic boy-meets-girl-and-falls-in-love plot takes place in the backdrop of a mammoth haveli (mansion) in Rajasthan’s Bhawanigarh, with hundreds of rooms flanked by dark, shadowy corridors. Trapped behind the locked doors of one of these rooms, protected by ancient mantras and spells, is Manjulika, an evil spirit. The plot thickens when she (predictably) escapes the confines of her room and vows to exact revenge on the family that trapped her inside many moons ago.
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The horror-comedy genre has performed well among Indian audiences in the past. Films like Chamatkar (1992) starring Naseeruddin Shah and Shahrukh Khan and Hello Brother (1999) starring Salman Khan and his older brother Arbaaz Khan were well-scripted films with extensive song-and-dance sequences and elaborate action sequences that went on to serve as a template for the genre for over a decade. What Bhool Bhulaiya (2007) did was to expand the spectrum of horredys by making plot and horror an important part of it—thereby achieving cult status and making the film arguably the best-of-its-kind in Bollywood.
The Akshay Kumar and Vidya Balan-starrer brought about a drastic change in the way the genre was presented to the audience. Instead of simply “placing” a ghost as one of the main characters in the movie, a lot of importance was laid on the horror aspect of the film, with the script and cinematography itself being tailor-made to create spooky vibes. A labyrinth of a plot was created which then ultimately led to a gripping climax.
Bhool Bhulaiya 2 manages to follow the same formula. Underlying themes of jealousy, generational curses, love, and betrayal are omnipresent, as are age-old clichés such as female ghosts sporting backward-facing feet. Is the movie scary? Well, if you were spooked by Balan’s performance in the original, then the answer is yes, it is.
Although there were doubts whether Aaryan, who is known as a funny actor in Bollywood, would be able to fill in the shoes of Akshay Kumar’s ‘Adi’ who made the theatre audience roar with laughter in the original 15 years ago, it is safe to say that the young lad delivered flawlessly. His comic timing and dialogue delivery are impeccable, making the audience collectively laugh when they least expect it. Aaryan’s performance is good because he doesn’t try too hard to live up to Kumar’s standards—thereby creating an original lead character that is entertainment max.
Advani complements his character with her simple girl-next-door vibe and plays an important role in being a bridge between Ruhaan and the mansion’s dark history.
However, it is the seasoned actor Tabu’s performance that the audience can really look forward to. She manages to convincingly draw the audience into the Bhool Bhulaiaya universe, captivating them, and even misleading them when required. Her grace, poise, and finesse stand out among her peers and industry juniors in the film. When a pivotal plot twist is revealed right before the intermission, one realizes that she may have a bigger role to play in the movie than what was initially expected.
The peripheral cast of Rajpal Yadav, Sanjay Mishra, and Ashwini Kalsekar is ludicrously funny and pivotal to the film’s comic quotient. Many will remember Yadav from his iconic pandit role in the original where his hair is gelled into a long spike, an appearance that he carries forward into this film as well. Mishra (bada pandit) and Kalsekar, who play husband and wife, are hilarious with their uncanny attempts to reveal the truth about Reet’s fake death.
Having said that, the extreme use of slow motion and shoddy CGI in the movie must be called out, for it was as cheesy as the audience’s popcorn. The 143-minute reel time doesn’t help either, but considering the numerous back and forths that takes place in the plot, it was probably required to efficiently narrate the story.
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How good a movie is in the horror-comedy genre can be defined by two factors: the audience’s ability to laugh while a rapidly developing plot is presenting itself and how smoothly can the film transition from funny to scary. Bhool Bhulaiya 2 checks both these boxes, for even in the “scariest” of moments when intense plot twists are taking place, the characters manage to make the audience laugh while keeping them firmly placed in Manjulika’s multiverse of horror.