Monday, February 16, 2009

Bhoot to the Head

(Originally published in January 2008, which probably explains a lot).

When I started watching 2003's Bhoot, I described it to my husband as a Bollywood movie with no singing and dancing. His response was, "Is that legal?" Apparently so, since the only music is in the score, some of it quite spooky and Omen-esque.

What Bhoot most resembles is a Hindi version of a Japanese ghost story in the Ringu/Dark Water vein, and a much better one than some of the American knock-offs I've seen. A happily married young couple (likeable Urmila Matondkar and sensitive sexyman Ajay Devgan) move into a high-rise apartment, where the previous tenant lept to her death from the balcony.

Husband Vishal scoffs at the idea that he'd be superstitious about this, but when his wife Swati hears the story, she quickly starts to unravel -- sleepwalking, seeing the woman's ghost everywhere she goes, and developing preternaturally dark circles under her eyes.

I have to pause for a second over a delightful scene in the storyline's early stages: Swati, home alone, is channel-surfing when we overhear the TV announcer trumpet "All new episodes!" (of Dharma and Greg and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, no less). Thus proving that television is in some fundamental ways alike all over the world.

Before long, a bizarre death in the building's lobby leads Vishal to wonder if his wife is capable of violence, and by the time a psychiatrist gets involved, we're in full-on Exorcist territory. A rational modern man, rendered vulnerable by his wife's seeming mental illness ("Just be okay," he pleads with her in a touching scene), he finally comes to believe that she's not really crazy. So despite being "an educated man," he seeks help from a "witch doctor" who can help the ghostly spirit, or bhoot, get its revenge and find peace in the afterlife.

The film's grave and glamorous medium is played by Rekha, the protective grandmother from Krrish, which I just watched last week. (Coincidentally, that movie features a character pretending to be a ghost, which leads Obligatory Comic Relief Guy to cry out "Bhoot! Bhoot!")
The ghost's mother, who helps out in a few scenes that are staged like a women's therapy group for the dead, is played by Tanuja, Devgan's real-life mother -in-law. Kevin Bacon has got nothing on Bollywood in degrees of separation.

The best connection is a brief argument between the couple, in which Vishal wants to go see Spider-Man and Swati wants to watch something called Straight from the Heart. "I'm tired of watching these stupid romantic films," he says, adding, "Come on, they're all the same." I know Straight from the Heart as the English title (on the DVD box) of Hum Dil De Chuke Sonam, a lavish and somewhat melodramatic romance starring Aishwarya Rai, Salman Khan, and ... Ajay Devgan.

Even though I've been hating musicals for decades, the only downside to Bhoot was that I really missed the singing and dancing. My world has turned all topsy-turvy! But overall this would actually be as good an introduction to Asian horror as some of the better-known Japanese films.

Plus, it's just really fun to say the word "Bhoot."

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