Mumbai, 21 Feb 2020 11:44 IST
The Vicky Kaushal-starrer, the first of a planned horror trilogy, falls prey to the well-known second-half syndrome.
The initial phase of horror films in Hindi cinema from the 1970s through the 1990s was dominated by the Ramsay brothers. Their name is still synonymous with the genre. However, their films have long since ceased to impress viewers.
Maverick filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma then infused fresh life (pardon the pun) in the genre when he made the impressive Bhoot (2003). Unfortunately, that proved to be a false dawn and the period soon fizzled out. Then it was Vikram Bhatt’s turn to try his hand at reviving the genre; the less said about his efforts, the better. In between, there was the odd film that did justice to the 'horror' tag, like Vikram Kumar's 13B (2009) or Rahi Anil Barve's Tumbbad (2018).
One reason for so many horror films turning out to be failures both at the box office and in critics' columns was that they failed to scare the audience. Many of them, in fact, tried so hard to scare the viewer that they ended up making her laugh.
Bhanu Pratap Singh’s Bhoot Part One: The Haunted Ship does not suffer from this drawback. In fact, the film scares the viewer for a good while with the help of its technical department and some deft handling by director Bhanu Pratap. The jump-scare moments are used smartly and only when needed. This gives you a real jolt when you least expect it.
The background score also does not go overboard. It becomes loud only when needed. On top of that, the production design of the ship and Pushkar Singh’s creative camerawork add to the eerie effect.
But no film can impress a viewer beyond a limit if the screenwriting falters, and this is where this Bhoot (Ghost) trips up.
The story revolves around Prithvi (Vicky Kaushal), who is an officer in a shipping company in Mumbai. He lives alone after his wife (Bhumi Pednekar) and daughter die in a mishap during a river-rafting expedition. Prithvi blames himself for their deaths. The incident leaves such a deep scar on his psyche that he hallucinates about his wife and daughter frequently.
One day, a huge cargo ship, Seabird, runs aground near Mumbai’s famous Juhu beach. (This part of the story is inspired by the real incident of a ship named MV Wisdom running aground near the beach back in 2011. The name of the building in the film where Prithvi's office is located is also — you guessed it — Wisdom.) Prithvi’s company gets the contract to set the ship free and lead it back to the high seas.
Prithvi goes on board out of curiosity and encounters some strange happenings. It doesn’t take long for him to realize that the ship is haunted by a girl's spirit. But who is the girl and what was her relationship with Prithvi?
The first half of Bhoot Part One ends on an interesting note with some fine technical razzmatazz and the mystery of the ghost. But the film fails to sustain the momentum after the break and your interest starts to flag with the confusing turn of events. The questionable behaviour of some of the other characters does not help.
What really scuppers the film, however, is the chaotic climax. This portion not only causes confusion but also makes you wonder if the writers had reached a dead end with their original premise and didn’t know the way out. And when a serious film makes you laugh, you know the makers have lost the plot. By this time the scare-fest also fizzles out as the director loses his grip on the narrative.
Of the many questions that remain unanswered, the most prominent relates to the character of Ashutosh Rana. Perhaps the answers will be found in the second part of the trilogy. Or maybe in the third. But this can’t be an excuse to end the first film in this shoddy manner.
The saving grace in this entire episode is Vicky Kaushal. The actor has been consistently proving his mettle in various genres and his performance here is another winner. Sadly, we can't say the same for the film. And so the wait for an impressive Hindi horror film continues.
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