Director: Haranath Chakraborty
Cast: Soham Chakraborty, Bonny Sengupta, Gaurav Chakrabarty, Paran Bandopadhyay
There was a time in the 1960s when Hindi cinema frequently had ‘lady ghosts’ in white walking across ruins, lamp in hand, singing plangent songs of longing and desolation … ‘Jhoom jhoom dhalti raat’ (Kohraa), ‘Kahin deep jaley’ (Bees Saal Baad), ‘Gumnam hai koi’ (Gumnam), to list only a few … Since then, they have gone out of fashion. So, it’s with a start that I watch Rittika Sen, candle in hand, making her way across the aptly titled ‘Shesher Kobita’, a crumbling mansion haunted by ghosts, singing, yes, believe it or not, Tagore’s classic song of loss ‘Aaj jyotsna ratey shobai gaechhe bonay’. Not even in his worst nightmare would Tagore, or any Rabindrasangeet lover for that matter, have envisaged the situation writer Padmanabha Dasgupta and director Haranath Chakraborty conjure for this most celestial of songs in Bhootchakra Pvt. Ltd. Yet, in what is for the most part a rather silly film, there are these unexpected moments that liven up proceedings so that even if it never quite realizes its potential, it does not disappoint either.
Bhootchakra is a strange hybrid – a potpourri of Ghostbusters, Poltergeist, Ghost, comedy, horror, romance, real-estate deals involving greedy relatives and unscrupulous politicians, murder – coming alive intermittently with a laugh-out-loud moment before degenerating into farcical slapstick, only to recover and falter time and again.
The tragedy of Bhootchakra is that it doesn’t know when to stop – and halfway through it, the film-makers are more or less flogging a dead horse
Three friends – Amit (Soham), Boney (Bonny) and Nemai ‘call me Nimo’ (Gaurav) – who have nothing better to do, recover an ancient contraption that once belonged to Amit’s great-great-great (maybe another great?) grandfather, an eccentric scientist. This Bhootchkara is supposed to be able to flush out ghosts from their haunts, and the friends embark on a business venture, charging Rs 1000 per ghost. There’s one problem, however: the device refuses to start at the crucial juncture and soon the friends find themselves in not a little bit of trouble with a hoodlum-turned-political leader.
Things take an unexpected twist when they get a call for their services from Santiniketan. Arriving at the haunted house they meet its occupants, Ranja (Srabonti), her sister-in-law Khushi (Rittika), her father-in-law and their maid and manservant. They learn that Ranja’s husband, Nilabho, has been missing for over two years and the inmates mention multiple ‘sightings’ that’s made their lives a ‘living’ hell.
What holds the film together every time it threatens to go completely off the rails are a series of throwaway one-liners: ‘Dadu, aami bachte chaai,’ yells a character in a nod to Ritwik Ghatak’s classic line in Meghe Dhaka Tara
But all is not what appears on the surface, and giving away anything more would amount to spoilers. Needless to say, our ghostbusters, or bhoot shikaris as they call themselves, soon have their hands full, not only with their mission of flushing out the ghosts, but figuring out who the ghosts are in the first place. What ensues is a madcap romp, often loud and lacking in subtlety – ghosts falling in love with the living, not knowing they are dead; the living reciprocating, not quite aware of the ‘status’ of their objects of affection; ghosts duelling with each other; the living wrestling with the dead; a flight into the haunt of the dead where the friends come across tombs marked ‘Jagadish Bose’, ‘Satyen Bose’ and ‘Subhas Bose’ (which, in a delicious touch, is empty!).
The ingenuity at play would have worked better in a crisper film. The tragedy of Bhootchakra is that it doesn’t know when to stop – and halfway through it, the film-makers are more or less flogging a dead horse. Three characteristically lovely Anupam Roy numbers are criminally wasted here – the songs not only disrupt the narrative, they never quite belong to the film.
The performances are all standard going-through-the motions variety, with no one called to deliver anything extraordinary
In a film like this you are not quite looking for anything exceptional either in front of or behind the camera. And in that Bhootchakra doesn’t disappoint. The performances are all standard going-through-the motions variety, with no one called to deliver anything extraordinary, though Kaushik Sen and that Paran Bandopadhyay (in a lovely little cameo as a ghost looking for living quarters in a cemetery) shine in the ensemble.
What holds the film together every time it threatens to go completely off the rails are a series of throwaway one-liners: ‘Dadu, aami bachte chaai,’ yells a character in a nod to Ritwik Ghatak’s classic line in Meghe Dhaka Tara; a ghost trying to commit suicide being dissuaded with the logic that one cannot die twice; another character realizing that he is dead lamenting that he has not been paid his dues for two months; even a cheeky take on Bengalis preferring to worship Tagore vis-à-vis ‘Jai Shri Ram’ … Sadly, the film goes on and on, so that these moments are too scattered for them to have maximum impact.