Saturday, May 10, 2008 11:00 IST
By Subhash K Jha Starring Amitabh Bachchan, Aman Siddiqui, Juhi Chawla, Priyanshu Chatterjee, Santa Banta News Network
Directed by Vivek Sharma
Rating: ** ½

There are many virtues to being innocent. A cherubic adorable ten-year boy old gets to frolic on the unspoilt beaches of Goa without the fear of a Sacrlett Keeling happening to him.

Bhootnath is that rare Goan film where you don't see single bikini-clad babe stealing into sight wth dubious intentions. The songs are colourful, yes. But they are done with the devilish delight of a rock concert rather than the calculated manoeuvres of choreographic manipulation.

Indeed debutant director Vivek Sharma harks back to an artless innocence that recalls the most cherished memories from one's childhood about a thankless son and benign ghost who come to life in a shimmering clasp of cute discontent.

The film's most delectable aspect is the rapport that grows between the Ghost-dost and the fearless little boy who comes to live in the dead man's Goan mansion, takes on the ghost and even gets the better of him. Both Bachchan and the boy have a ball. So do we, in portions.

The film's best scenes feature the benign ghost Bachchan with the incredibly confident and polished Aman Siddiqui. The pair just takes over the screen and makes you forget the narrative's all-too-apparent flaws.

There're plot-holes large enough to make Bhootnath an uneasy bumpy ride. Big B and Little Aman make you smile as they frolic, sing banter and yes, deliver some really heartwarming homilies on the quality of existence.

Of late Mr Bachchan has been repeatedly seen in interactive situations with little kids. After Ayesha Kapoor in Black, Rucha Vaidya in Ek Ajnabee and Sweeni Khare in Cheeni Kam, he brings a sense of cross-generation harmony with another acutely cute and young co-star.

Frankly his rapport with Aman Siddiqui in Bhootnath is far more chilled out. While the kids in the other three films were to one degree or another, traumatized Aman plays a normal bratty but sensitive kid, yet another addition to the growing brood of brilliant brats in Bollywood after Darsheel Safary in Taare Zameen Par.

The director lets the child be. He imposes no adult perceptions on him. The narration consequently carries an air of old-world naivete to the end.

There are no breaks for romantic songs, item numbers and other modern-day quirks and compromises. Bhootnath glides forward with the unconscious skill of a little boat in a tranquil lake which knows where it wants to go without creating any stress within the pace of the grace.

And what would Bhootnath be without the Bachchan,sportingly sharing the lines, visuals songs and drama with a child who gives him tit for tat, and more?

The rapport between the wandering spirit and the spirited kid could've fallen apart were it not for the cool camaraderie between the two 'men' one unschooled in acting therefore totally spontaneous, the other so skilled and schooled he readily redefines the the cult of the cool.

The duo apart, the other characters are to varying degrees, largely sketchy. Rajpal Yadav with shoe-polish on his face plays one of those Goan Michael-daroo-peeta-hai stereotypes that you thought had gone with the 'wink'.

Priyanshu Chatterjee as the dead spirit's ungrateful son struggles to give substance to an under- written role. His character brings into play the age-old conflict between old-world values where a home was considered much more than financial asset, and the new generation which thinks property is easily fundable.

The producers (BR and Ravi Copra) known for their message movies, couldn't let go the chance to make a social statement.And why not?

Juhi Chawla as the flustered mom is sweet and angelic. But unable to add anything to the drama beyond a point.

Interestingly Shah Rukh Khan in a guest appearance clearly tries to improvise on the badly-written dialogues mainly in scenes where he pokes fun at his screen-wife's cooking.

Ah yes, Shah Rukh and Juhi continue to share a quaint if nor crackling chemistry. But the chemistry here is clearly between the 65-year old never-say-die spirit and the child who knows he's up against a formidable adversary.

Or maybe he doesn't. Sometimes the motivations underlying spontaneity can be the very opposite of fear.

Bhootnath tells us ghosts are not scary. They can be be fun. At the end of the blithe film we believe the director. If not in his beliefs about ghosts.
Reviewed by:
Subhash K Jha Starring Amitabh Bachchan, Aman Siddiqui, Juhi Chawla, Priyanshu Chatterjee
and Rated:
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