A sequel has been planned to Shekhar Kapur’s Mr India, featuring Anil Kapoor’s invisible man, who battles on behalf of the great Indian unwashed, but its producers need not bother. Nitesh Tiwari’s Bhoothnath Returns, in which Amitabh Bachchan’s ghost Kailash Nath returns to earth for unfinished business, is a tribute to, and an update of, the 1987 movie.The follow-up to 2008’s Bhoothnath takes full advantage of the anti-corruption sentiment that has infected the current political climate. Although the Aam Aadmi Party isn’t mentioned in Bhoothnath Returns, its ghost hovers over the revolutionary zeal that drives the characters, while the Election Commission of India will fully approve ofthe frequent exhortations to viewers to exercise their vote through sequences that have the flavour of public service advertisements.
Tiwari might have made his debut by co-writing and co-directing the children’s movie Chillar Party, but the sequel to Bhoothnath, in which Kailash Nath tries to scare away a family that has moved into his house, is for grown-ups. Like Chillar Party, this film too wraps its social concerns in humour.
Kailash Nath is in heaven, which is wittily conceptualized as a European rural paradise, where he gets jeered at for his inability to scare children. Sent back to earth to restore his image, he meets Akroot (Parth Bhalerao), a streetwise urchin from Dharavi who signals the movie’s shift towards serious material when he takes the ghost to his Mumbai slum, wonderfully designed to resemble the real thing by Wasiq Khan.
Far more frightening than ghosts is the squalor surrounding Akroot, which Bhoothnath is persuaded to fix by standing for a forthcoming election against the odious politician Bhau (a loud and hammy Boman Irani).So what if Kailash Nath is not alive? The rules don’t say anything about debarring a ghost from contesting.From here on, it’s a roller-coaster ride of ups balanced evenly with the downs. The pointed and sharp dialogue provides several chuckle-worthy moments at the foibles of the Indian ruling class and the bureaucracy. Kailash Nath’s transformation from ghost to candidate provides Tiwari with several opportunities to draw attention to the vast homeless and hungry multitudes that continue to crowd the margins of the so-called “India Story”.
It’s heart-warming to see a movie that speaks up for the rights of the underprivileged rather than the middle class and never strays beyond its slum setting, but it’s also tiresome to watch the film-maker labour the point. Anik Dutta’s Bengali supernatural comedy Bhooter Bhabishyat kept its ambitions in check while selling the crackerjack idea about a haunted mansion as a metaphor for a fast-changing Kolkata, but the goal of Bhoothnath Returns is nothing short of total revolution through the ballot box.