By Ambar Chatterjee
Release Date: 21/2/2020
Cast: Vicky Kaushal, Ashutosh Rana, Bhumi Pednekar
Directed By: Bhanu Pratap Singh
"Vicky Kaushal shines bright in what is a missed opportunity"
Horror has been a genre that has never reached its full potential in India. Apart from a few good efforts by the Bhatts and Ram Gopal Varma coining his trademark in some of his earlier films, horror has neither boasted of being a money spinner nor cinematically well made films. However, in 2018 I watched a film called Pari that to a great extent reinstated my faith in Indian horror films. It was atmospheric, had a great story to tell and was laced with some terrific performances. In 2019 we had Tumbbad which proved to be even better than Pari. I can still practically hear the prehistoric grandmother of the protagonist of that film hiss her dialogues. That's how effective it was. The trailer of Bhoot: Part One – The Haunted Ship in many ways gave me a similar vibe and I was hooked. It became one of 2020s most anticipated films for me. It released today without much fuss or trademark Bollywood marketing and turned out to be bittersweet affair for me.
Prithvi (Vicky Kaushal) has lost his wife and child in a harrowing incident and blames himself for bringing it upon them. He has over the years been mentally unwell and has been on medication to stop hallucinating about his wife and child. He is also someone who is in lookout for opportunities to re-deem himself by risking his life to save others from tricky situations. As he is cooling his heels after a brave rescue operation, an abandoned ship arrives from nowhere and docks itself on the shores of Mumbai. This ship is devoid of any life and is rumored to be haunted. Prithvi and his team are entrusted with investigating the ship and setting it away from Mumbai. As Prithvi begins his investigation, he encounters paranormal activities and soon realizes that the ship is not empty and may just harbor a soul that need rescuing.
Vicky Kaushal has really grown as an actor. In this film, he singlehandedly hooks you to the narrative. Whenever he is on the screen, he is able to transfix you to whatever is unfolding and even in scenes that don't involve anything thrilling he keeps you interested. In a film like this, one can get unknowingly caricature-ish and over the top very easily but Kaushal finds his bearing from the very first scene. If only he was aided with some good writing, this would have been a memorable outing for the man. It wouldn't still be wrong to say that he will only walk away with accolades from this role even though it has some serious handicaps in terms of character development and writing.
As one of my friends pointed out, Ashutosh Rana is the next most important character in the film and he is completely wasted as his character and performance lack the intensity that was needed to sell the character he was essaying. I would pick his professor Agni Swaroop from Raaz any day over this performance. Meher Vij who played two seminal mothers (Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Secret Superstar) plays another mother here but with a twist. I can't blame her for not doing a good job as she makes the best of what she is given to work with. The blame for her character failing has to be given to the writer and director which in this case happens to be the same person, Bhanu Pratap Singh.
One has to agree that Bollywood lacks originality in terms of scares and relies heavily on jump scares. But it must also be noted that when jump scares are done well, they can do wonders (The Conjuring, Insidious). The horror elements in this film work in parts but most of the time, I was able to predict when the scare was coming and where it was coming from. That really proved to be a dampener in terms of enjoying the scares. A big part of the fun of a horror film is taken from the film's ability to scare the viewer. I loved the atmosphere of the film and how it was shot but the problem was with the fact that many of its scares where recycled and that too not in a good way. The last 15-20 minutes was the worst.
The film did build up well but in the end the final payoff lacked any significant punch. The CGI was terrible. One of the critics wrote for the CGI that "it made the characters look more funny and less scary". Unfortunately, I have to agree with this observation. The CGI of the main antagonist was particularly hilarious. The portions showing the ship was well done and it did give the right kind of feeling. The interiors of the ship was also well envisioned and laid out. It was actually this portion that raised my hopes for the CGI but it turned out to get progressively worse as the film inched towards the climax.
Having said all that, the film's biggest problem is still its writing. There was so much to the character of Prithvi that the director could have exploited but he chose to take the safest and most generic path to resolution. In doing so he leaves us, the audiences, unsatisfied. I was also surprised by the ease with which Prithvi soars over the evil spirit and that too without incurring any personal tragedy. It was also extremely annoying how some things happened just so that the film could be tied off quickly. This indicated to a diminishing sense of interest in the film for the makers. If that was not enough, we had the protagonist drudge his way through the same horror set pieces again and again and that made the film overstay it's welcome even at a standard runtime of 116 minutes. The basic plot points of the film after they are revealed will confuse many.
I had high hopes from this film and it did have the materials to be great but some lackluster writing and inept direction leads to all that opportunity getting lost somewhere. The film is atmospheric and does crawl under your skin on many juncture but that's about it. The story takes some of the most pedestrian liberties to arrive at the climax and culminate it with an equal lack of interest and penchant for believability. Vicky Kaushal is great and he is one of the biggest pluses of the film. One also has to credit the cinematography and art department for creating a sufficiently eerie atmosphere that works for most of the part. Horror fans will not be impressed by Bhoot: Part One – The Haunted Shipbut for those who are not ardent fans of the genre and haven't seen some of the better horror films may still enjoy this effort.
Rating: 2.5/5 (2.5 out of 5 Stars)