Phone Bhoot Review: Cheesy, Campy, Fun

Phone Bhoot‘s fizzy fuel isn’t enough for feature length fun, observes Sukanya Verma.

How to fit one hundred pop culture references in 137 minutes of gobbledygook? Do time pass.

Remember that frowned upon, lazy phrase every film critic has used at some point in their career to sum up a movie that goes nowhere but doesn’t kill you either? Director Gurmmeet Singh’s comedy of horrors chucks story to engage in time pass.

There’s no room for script, seriousness and, God forbid, sense in its sprawling scheme of puerile scares, kick-in-the-groin humour and raging innuendoes.

The idea is to have cheesy, campy fun around two carefree slackers with a spate of failed businesses behind them.

Major (Siddhant Chaturvedi) is a Punjabi boy whose lassi thirst, libido and loose tongue are eternally active.

Gullu (Ishaan), his Tamilian bestie, is the filter coffee-glugging quintessential softie with brains and beautiful curls.

The oddballs from North and South have little in common besides disapproving daddies, of which one’s slap logic left me chuckling out loud.

What Major and Gullu deeply share is a mad love for spooky props, trashy pop culture, a horrid hallucinogen made from black cat’s nostril hair and lizard’s tail and a strange superpower — they see dead people.

The world they inhabit is strictly off the beaten track. But Phone Bhoot‘s slapstick goes full throttle only when hot ghost Ragini (Katrina Kaif) gate-crashes their creepy costume party featuring the likes of The Nun, Pennywise, Beetlejuice, Annabelle, etcetera.

Production design is in complete sync with its pop culture heavy vibe. Be it the gizmos, interiors or aesthetics, it’s like they shopped half of the Think Geek and Hot Topic Web site.

Coolness overload aside, Ragini recognises their supernatural gift and makes an offer they first shoot down, then steal and eventually, join hands on. As the do-gooders of the afterlife, the troika exorcise and emancipate souls out of haunted homes and possessed beings.

How Ghostbusters is that?

The 1984 Hollywood comedy is another league of paranormal geekdom and these loafing Bhootbusters are only brazen enough to rip off their jumpsuits and doodads. Neither ditzy enough to embrace its potential as stoner comedy nor wicked enough to go all out with its grotesqueness or gags, Phone Bhoot‘s fizzy fuel isn’t enough for feature length fun.

Things get worse when Ragini’s dumb backstory and a sceptre-wielding, soul-capturing tapori tantrik called Atmaram (Jackie Shroff), guarded by henchmen, resembling Kroor Singh and a low-budget goblin, appear out of nowhere and suck out whatever little gas this baloney is floating on.

Having said that, it’s always entertaining when Jackie does his thing before the cameras.

His candour is a good fit for a movie that doesn’t mind him seeing the tomfoolery for what it is and even indulge in his trademark ‘Maushi‘ humour.

Siddhant and Ishaan’s disarming blokes and their infectious energy and jelly-kneed responses to Katrina’s plump pout and ‘aamsutra‘ imagery are sufficiently droll.

Katrina recreates Rekha’s oomph from In The Night No Control (Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi) and Manisha Koirala’s Telephone Dhun (Hindustani) delightfully, but the boys have an effortless chemistry and make a fanboy meal out of Govinda’s ‘Dolly Dolly’ mantra from the obscure Do Knot Disturb.

Though mostly peripheral to the action, Sheeba Chaddha’s comic chops and amusing Bangla accent as Chikni Chudail underscore what a sport she is, but somehow gets lost in a ghoulish crowd of Rapunzel-haired daayans and Raka-Akka chanting dodos.

After a point, Phone Bhoot‘s humour descends into late-night drunk messaging that wants us to cackle at jokes like a decapitated corpse wearing a badge that reads Head of Security and puns that read ASsouls.

Playful is fine.

What Phone Bhoot lacks is personality.

The makers are clear on the nature of Major and Gullu’s bromance, but we still get glimpses to read more into it.

Gullu has dreams about Major taking a bloody shower — in case it doesn’t ring a bell for those born in the last couple of decades, it’s a hat tip to Purana Mandir, a gory classic of the Ramsay brothers.

Rather than tease us with the sexual ambiguity, Phone Bhoot childishly jumps out to highlight the trivia lest us less horror buffs miss the connection.

Phone Bhoot would be a lot more memorable if it wasn’t merely a costume ball doffing its hat at Hollywood, Bollywood, Fukrey, Thalaivaa, a heroine who drinks mango juice like few can or a hero who can’t stop playing his flute.

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