Bhoothnath is one depressed ghost. Deeply humiliated at not having been successful at the one thing all ghosts manage so effortlessly– scaring children — he asks permission to descend from on high, back to earth, and go boo. Upon which he manages (once again, just like in the prequel ‘Bhoothnath’) to find the one little tyke who can see him, and off they go to find a fresh set of ‘bhootiya’ adventures.Sounds like fun? Sure, there is some nicely-done amusement to be had in ‘Bhoothnath Returns’, and it is not all pandering to juveniles. Shortly after the standard levitating-in-the air-tricks by Bhootnath (Amitabh Bachchan) and his constant companion Akhrot (Parth Bhalerao), the plot arrives at the point where it sticks, and makes this one of the sharpest Bollywood critiques of the political system in the country.Hold Correction. It could have been. The impact of the film is diluted by a central confusion in tone: is this a film for kids fronting a bumbling ‘bhoot’ and loveable slumboy, or a tried-and-tested all-too-familiar Bollywood take on let’s-vote-the-bad-guys-out, and make Indian democracy a great place?Evil ‘neta’ Bhau (Boman Irani), accompanied by chief ‘chamcha’ (Brijendra Kala) and faithful goons, is the epitome of all that is the worst in our politicians. He is cheerfully and relentlessly corrupt and rules over Akhrot’s slum with an iron hand. The bulk of the film deals with the issue of civic malaise, social injustice, and official apathy, and then zooms off to find solutions: these are heavy things, and the tone gets all muddled, between comic and serious, and then veers alarmingly towards drippy sentimentality.Reprising his ‘bhoot’ persona from the earlier film, Amitabh Bachchan gets much more to do this time around, and some of it is right up his long-jacketed sleeve. But Amitabh Bachchan can’t help being Bachchan, so we hear his ‘shuddh’ Hindi with pure pleasure, and his ‘tapori’ lines with a shrug. The best ‘tapori’, and the best thing, in the film is undoubtedly Parth Bhalerao, who keeps step with the veteran superstar naturally and easily.There’s a reference to the ‘high command’ (such a Congress phrase), and several dialogues about lousy ‘netagiri’ that cut uncomfortably close to the bone. There are in-house Bollywood jokes (Anurag Kahsyap shows up as himself in a cameo, as a filmmaker who fights ‘against the system’, but who looks both delighted and bemused to be in the same frame as Amitabh Bachchan). And there’s a real satirical sharpness to some sequences, and a welcome conceit : can only a `bhoot’ set things right in this country because human beings are all beyond the pale?But the whole is less than the sum of its parts. The pace slackens, the ghost-and-boy rap begins to drag, and there are far too many threads hanging — a Harry Potteresque compact between ‘bhootlings’ and earthlings, and a clean-the-system-of-all-ills-romp, overlaid with some weepiness and an item-song-in-the-slums full of blonde babes dancing alongside the Big B and the small boy I laughed out loud in a few bits, didn’t mind some of it, and blanked out in the rest. Finally it was neither funny nor serious enough: neither fully ghostly nor ghastly, but somewhere in between.
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