– spoilers ahead –
Murder, in all its glorious mystery, can not be the story (mark the word – story, not subject) of a movie any more. The focus must lie elsewhere, in the lives of the characters, their interactions, their crisis, their interpretation of the world around them, so that when a clue is quietly slipped into a scene, the viewers’ll either miss it, or interpret it differently (reminds me of Ram Gopal Verma’s Kaun), like we all have done in the best of Agatha Christie novels. This is how Bhool Bhulaiyaa fails. It has no story. Its characters have no life (except Akshay Kumar, may be). That is also why in the end, when the mystery is over, one fails to sympathise with the emotional difficulties of the characters.
I think the time for such movies is over. You can’t just make a “straight whodunit movie” any more. The cinematic language is dead, stale, and little innovation has been seen over the years. One could experiment with the narration, the pace, the atmosphere, but little is going to get any better. No matter how subtle your composition of a shot is, the average audience will know what it means, and they will know how to interpret it. Because, frankly, it is all there, everything that could have been done has been done. The end has come for closed room mysteries.
The principal reason why Bhool Bhulaiyaa doesn’t work, after one succeeds in ignoring the production glitches, the emotive incoherency and the many cinematic liberties taken by the Director, is that the cinematic language all cliche, and the story too thin.
I dismissed the movie as soon as all the mysteries of the movie were formally introduced, because by then I had everything figured out. Amisha Patel couldn’t be the culprit, because she was being victimised. The meek brother and the mute sister were obviously dummies, because the director invested no amount of screen time or focus on them.
Now that Amisha is out of the equation, you suddenly remember that terrible Agatha Christie novel you read years back, and something similar comes back. Now why was Amisha under suspicion? Because she pushed the clock on Vidya Balan, right? Because she set Vidya’s saree to fire? But, if she didn’t do them, who did? Who could?
Exactly. The answer is Vidya Balan! And I start to get depressed about the coming two hours of the movie.
And then, presto! Akshay Kumar enters the screen. His character, while it is caught in the story of the movie, isn’t really a part of it, and therein lies its appeal. His histrionics kept the comic refuges coming, and I didn’t want to miss any of his scenes (except for the ones towards the end). I came out with a favourable impression, because the movie was not a tedious self-indulgent exercise of a director wanting to make his mark, it was a commercialised piece of junk without any pretence at integrity, and it doesn’t fail to entertain.
Music and Background Score
There are very few songs, and they are catchy, short, and mostly take the story forward, contributing towards the pace of the movie. Akshay looks cool in the title track.
The background score is also competent, but sadly misused, to the point of ruining the thrill of the movie.
Consider the scene where Vidya enters the much advertised mysterious locked chamber for the first time with a stolen duplicate. The sequences are good enough, and tension builds up as we start to fear for her physical safety, wondering what is going to happen next. But just before the tension could reach its peak, the ill timed exuberant background score pops up and we instinctively know that nothing is going to happen to Vidya, and all the laboriously built up panic dissolves away. We let the long held breaths out, ease ourselves into our seats, and go back to snoring.
The most interesting sequence of the movie is towards the end, where Vidya Balan, finally having surrendered to the ghost (of her mind), produces a captivating dance, which was almost the best thing about the movie, along with Akshay Kumar. I wish I could see more of that haunting look, I wouldn’t mind going to the theatre just for that performance.
Apart from that, the movie seems to have a poor sense of Aesthetics. The atmosphere, which is supposed to be spooky, if not scary, is badly constructed. The attempts at interspersing shadows with light doesn’t quite work, and sometimes it sends wrong signals.
Akshay Kumar, as usual, has an energetic and entertaining appearance/mannerisms, and his performance is competent throughout. Paresh Rawal does deliver his lines, but he is underused. Amisha Patel is okay, and Vidya’s performance is raised from okay to good through some key scenes, some of which have more to do with her appearance rather than her acting. All the veterans (whose names I can’t remember) have turned in competent performances.
The odd one out is Shiney Ahuja, who disappoints. He alternates between wooden stereotypes and screaming fits, and expects us to take him seriously. I would blame the director though, how could he let him get away with those terrible performances? His character could easily have been emotionally consistent and normal if he had only stood there and let the scenes take their course. Instead, he tries to act and we have this high-strung guy who frequently overreacts (by screaming) and whose sense of loyalty towards his father-figure is simply incomprehensible. I like this guy. It’s sad to see him grow complacent like this. He has some serious self-contemplation to do.
Given the standard of Bollywood movies, I would rate this movie 3 stars out of 5. One for the pace (the movie is not self indulgent, and keeps you mildly preoccupied from boredom), one for not digressing from the theme meaninglessly (like most of the other movies do, no item numbers), and one for Akshay Kumar and Vidya Balan.