Gurmmeet Singh’s Phone Bhoot is a laboured effort in the genre of horror-comedy that neither has enough jump-scary moments nor enough laughter to tickle our funny bone. The film is silly and juvenile in parts and if some of the lukewarm, titillating scenes and the double meaning sexual innuendoes are edited out, the film might yet work for individuals, who are yet to attain puberty.
Galileo Parthasarathy or ‘Gullu’ (Ishaan Khatter) and Sherdil ‘Major’ Shergill Major (Siddhant Chaturvedi) are thick childhood friends who have devoted their lives to studying the activities of ghosts and spirits. The two also possess a special ability to be able to sense the presence of and communicate with supernatural beings. However, they are failures in life who have to depend on their parents for paying the rent of their house and generally surviving in life. A chance encounter with a wandering spirit, Ragini Maheshwari (Katrina Kaif), gives them the opportunity to make some money. Though they are reluctant initially due to ethical reasoning, they join hands with Ragini and embark on a career to take care of ghosts and poltergeists creating havoc in the lives of people. But we soon find out that Ragini has an ulterior motive of her own. One that pits Major and Gullu against Atmaram (Jackie Shroff), a Tantrik with special powers, in a battle between good versus evil…
No doubt, it is a gutsy decision for a director to dabble in various genres during his/her career as a filmmaker. But sometimes it is better to do what one does best. Gurmmeet Singh, whose credit as a director include the gritty and violent web series, Mirzapur and some episodes of the sports thriller, Inside Edge, is unsuccessful in breaking out of his comfort zone with Phone Bhoot. Along with his screenwriters, Ravi Shankaran and Jasvinder Singh Bath, Gurmmeet has delivered a film that had a beguiling premise but the writing is never as confident and competent as it needs to be.
Besides having a flimsy conflict running right through, Phone Bhoot desperately tries to create humor by taking recourse to in-jokes – referencing dialogues, scenes and songs from the films made in the 1990s along with other pop-culture references – that appear more as an act of mockery rather than a smartly placed homage. Major, seized with a jealous temperament. dreams of Gullu and Ragini regaling each other with songs like Telephone Dhun Main Hanse Waali from Shankar’s Hindustani (1996) or In The Night, No Control from the Rekha-Akshay Kumar-Raveena Tandon starrer, Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi (1996). This is mediocrity at its best. During the final showdown of the film, Jackie Shroff declares himself as a ‘hero since 1983’ and starts to play the theme of his debut feature film, Hero (1983), on a flute. Really? The film also attempts some comedy through a Bengali witch, Chikni Chudail (Sheeba Chadha), who can’t spell Moksh, a Punjabi one, Dayan (Nidhi Bisht), who breaks into a dance each time she hears a groovy Punjabi beat, and a Tamil spirit, Lavanya (Anushka Suguna Pushaparaj), who stops creating a ruckus the moment she comes across a photo of Rajinikanth. While the tropes are clichéd to say the least, the three actresses do manage to create the odd funny moment or two.
For all the film’s flaws, the crackling chemistry between Ishaan and Siddhant keeps the film on a somewhat watchable level. If Siddhant as Major is a feisty, muscular guy ruled by his brains, Ishann as Gullu is a charming, credulous and docile person, who is led by his heart. Katrina Kaif is rigid, stiff and wooden and looks little more than a mobile mannequin. But yet again, she proves what an adept dancer she is, especially in the Kaali Teri Gutt number. Jackie Shroff is in good form and delivers some fine comic moments in the film with his trademark Bambaitya lingo.
The Director of Photography, KU Mohanan, has shot the film with beautifully lit frames and bright colour palettes to bring out the jovial mood of the film. The editing by Manan Ashwin Mehta is quite seamless, making the transition between scenes pretty smoothly to create an even pace and rhythm with some consistency. The production design by Vintee Bansal supports the visual style of the narrative. The den where Atmaram resides displays her fine attention to detail. The departments of VFX, make-up and prosthetics have also done a commendable job towards evoking the comical spookiness of the film. But unfortunately, they are all in service to a script that seldom rises above the ordinary.
Phone Bhoot, sadly, turns out to be a dull and not so funny tale that is narrated with a rather whimsical attitude. What could have been a fun desi ‘ghost buster’ of a ride finally ends up as a bust of a film.
Hindi, Horror, Comedy, Color