Director: Gurmmeet Singh
Writers: Ravi Shankaran and Jasvinder Singh Bath
Cast: Katrina Kaif, Ishaan Khatter, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Jackie Shroff and Sheeba Chadha
Two loser buddies, Gullu (Ishaan Khatter) and Major (Siddhant Chaturvedi) are smitten by B-grade Hindi horror movies. Their house is a shrine dedicated to their obsession. It is designed as a darawni haveli and there are film posters plastered on walls, their favorite dreams are the nightmares with blood replacing water in the shower, and they even have a life-size model of Raka the zombie, stolen from a film set, installed in their house. The duo is prolific at planning business ventures around their love for ghosts. They are also prolific at failing in all of these. One day, in a dream-come-true moment, they accidentally get some superpowers—they can now see and communicate with ghosts. They meet a bhootni (Ragini, played by Katrina Kaif) at a party and she, realizing their superpower, comes up with an interesting business proposal. What happens next is a rollercoaster ride through the world of the living and the dead, but mostly the ones stuck in between. The third category involves a Punjabi ghost who can’t resist dancing to Punjabi songs, even while on an assignment, and a Bengali ghost who is tired of freelancing gigs and is keen on landing a corporate job. There are ghosts named Lady Dayana and Jonny Dushman. The Elon Musk of their world is the app-loving Atmaram (Jackie Shroff)—he hires, fires, overworks, and manipulates his moksh-seeking zombie workforce. There is something sinister brewing there. Both Ragini and Atmaram have an ultimate agenda and hence a clash is inevitable. The USP of this movie is its brazen bizarreness, which is heightened by a rather Go Goa Gone-ish Babaji Ki Booti.
The premise (as well as the name) is reminiscent of the 2021 horror comedy Bhoot Police. There is no logic (or realism) involved in the making of this film. But then, a movie with chudails and dayans should hardly involve such things. This movie is made as a fun-watch and it does the job pretty well. The movie is mindless entertainment and doesn’t even pretend to be otherwise.
Helmed by Gurmmeet Singh and produced by Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani’s banner Excel Entertainment, this paranormal poltergeist flick is an ode to B-grade horror movie and is replete with deliciously quirky meta-references interspersed with current pop-culture ones. Writers, Ravi Shankaran and Jasvinder Singh Bath have done a marvelous job and the film reflects their wit. The writing is intentionally absurd. But it also bristles with a kind of acute self-awareness that makes the scenes more amusing. The way they incorporate Katrina’s Slice ad into the story or pay tribute to Jackie Shroff’s Hero act, or wittily insert popular movie dialogues like Bachchi Ho Kya, etc seamlessly into the story is amusing and shows their grip over the pulse of the Gen Z as well as the Millenials.
But the best part about the movie is that you can almost feel the entire cast having a blast while making it, and that excitement and fun are contagious; it transmits through the screen and gets to the audience. It is refreshing to see both Ishaan and Siddhant in their elements and playing characters their age. Their energy is infectious, their performances so effortless that even in the most contrived of situations, it doesn’t look stilted. And they ace the physical comedy bits. As Gullu and Major, the two bumbling bhoot busters, also win hearts with their bromance, and their comic timing together is on point.
Sheeba Chadha’s Bong accent (as well as her Bong-style saree) is on fleek and the ace actor redeems herself from her Majaa Maa turn. It is such a treat to watch the C for Clown actor in a comic role. Her origin story would the perfect prequel to this ghostly saga.
Jackie Shroff, as Atmaram, blends suave with the street in a way only he can. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when the OG takes up the flute to recreate his Hero act—an apt tribute from the makers to a man who completes his 4-decade-long stint in the industry next year.
Katrina is adequately cute as the bhatakti atma. She was never known to be a nuanced actor, but here she fits the role and her performance doesn’t come across as too jarring. She is sporting enough to indulge in self-deprecating humor when she asks Chadha’s character ‘Tumhari Hindi weak hai kya?’—a criticism Katrina has been facing since entering the industry. But, one hopes after so many years, her Hindi and dialogue delivery had become more polished.
The set that doubles up as the den of the don-like Atmaran reminds one of Durga Puja pandals. It is hilarious but it is meant to be such. The production design and prosthetics as well as the VFX are perfectly in-sync with the mood of the movie and are bound to remind one of the kitsch of the Ramsay Brothers horror films.
The movie unfolds in an eccentric world of popping colors and is fuelled by equally eccentric and popping music. The man, the legend, the Baba Sehgal teams up with Mikey McCleary for the theme song and that should give one an idea of what to expect. Kumar and Roy’s take on Kaali Teri Gutt can even make the ghosts break into bhangra. The use of the song as a device to forward the plot works like magic. Tanishk Bagchi’s heady Kinna Sona slowly grows on you just like Katrina’s turn as Ragini. Kumaar and Rochak Kohli’s Jaau Jaan Se is a romantic melodious number. It goes with the mood of the moment but breaks the vibe of the album.
At 136 minutes, the movie is crisply edited but the pace slows down a bit in the middle of the second half. In Bollywood, the horror comedy genre has become popular especially post Stree (2018). In fact, one of the biggest hits of the year, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, was also one of those. And we already have a third one (Bhediya) waiting for release. But the box office misses have outnumbered the hits. It is to be seen which way the scale tilts for Phone Bhoot. But, there is no doubt that Gurmmeet Singh has managed to make a film that is mindless, fun, and entertaining although devoid of any logic, that shines in every department and packs the right punch. There is serious craftsmanship that goes behind the making of the ‘funny’. It takes guts and serious self-confidence along with a copious amount of madness to attempt such a movie, and one needs adequate talent to back it up. The Mirzapur director ensures that. He doesn’t hold back with the kitsch or the over-the-topness of it all and creates the willing suspension of disbelief from get-go.
Phone Bhoot is a celebration of the trashy aesthetic of B-grade Hindi horror movies, but sans the raunchy sex scenes, making it a perfect family watch for the Halloween season. In fact, kids might enjoy this mad and wacky rollercoaster of a movie more than grownups.
Avoid if you are looking for intellectual stimulation. This one is not for the Sapiosexuals. Go for it if mindless entertainment is your jam. For these desi ghost busters are great gloom busters as well. DO NOT miss this if you are a connoisseur of trashy movies and the very mention of Ramsay Brothers makes you go weak in the knees.