I have a confession to make: I like Bhool Bhulaiyaa more than its source Manichitrathazhu. The 2007 Priyadarshan-directed film has hummable songs, memorable characters, uproarious humour, and some genuinely chilling moments. Priyadarshan was a big part of my childhood. I remember watching movies like Hera Pheri, Hungama, Bhagam Bhag and Dhol whenever they came on the TV and laughing with utmost glee. Some parts of Mere Baap Pehle Aap, De Dana Dan, and one scene involving too many phone calls in Khatta Meetha still make me giggle. But then Priyadarshan went on to direct odious movies like Aakrosh, Tezz, Rangrezz, Hungama 2 and the very dull Marakkar: Lion of the Arabian Sea.
But I digress. Let me alight the nostalgia train and come to the main subject: Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2. This sequel (or standalone sequel, as Wikipedia informs me) is directed by Anees Bazmee and I was fascinated by its opening scene. A spirit – of course, she is Manjulika – is trapped inside a room by a group of priests. In this supernatural sequence, you see the reflection of the characters. I thought these reflections were a nod to the multiple personality disorder theme present in the earlier film. The idea of visually connecting two movies not only seemed interesting, but it came from someone like Bazmee. However, we later find out that it serves a different purpose. Those reflective images allude to the concept of this film, which deals with identical twin sisters. It's still neat. I wish I could say the same about the rest of the film.
Because after the opening, almost everything crumbles in Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2. We meet Ruhaan (Kartik Aaryan) and Reet (Kiara Advani) somewhere in a snowy region. He claims to have a sixth sense but is basically a stalker who reads about you on Facebook and persistently follows you until you submit yourself to his wishes. She, on the other hand, is naive. So naive, in fact, that she abandons her bus to attend a music festival with some guy she just met. In this story about a spirit, it's this part that seems more like fiction. After several contrivances (a phone call, a bus accident), Ruhaan goes with Reet to Bhawanigarh. Here you realize how naive this girl really is. She pretends to be dead so that her sister can get married. Moreover, she relishes the food served at her own funeral. All the while, Reet is unable to grasp the pain her family might be going through because of her deceptive game. She is also someone who overlooks the spooky signs like the breaking of a lock, opening of a door, and sudden arrival of electricity. In Hollywood slasher movies, such characters are the first to die.
But let's suspend disbelief and accept it all in the name of "comedy." Is it funny? I laughed when Bade Pandit (Sanjay Mishra), after finding evidence against Ruhaan, chanted "Apna time aayega" and when Kulwant (Rajesh Sharma) gave a preposterous yet acceptable reason for sleeping in Manjulika's bed. Apart from these two scenes, nothing else comes close to even making you smile. A kid is used for fat-shaming jokes, and the antics of Bade Pandit and the gang becomes tiring. One of those members is Chhote Pandit (Rajpal Yadav), whose presence in Bhool Bhulaiyaa enlivened the whole film. Here he gets a decent amount of screen time and yet, fails to be as funny and special as he was in the previous movie. That's because Bazmee just puts the character on the screen, thinking his existence would be enough to satisfy the audience. The jokes he gets, like the one involving a donkey, are lame and do a disservice to both the actor and the character.
Of course, Chhote Pandit is present for the sake of nostalgia. Bazmee reuses the hit parts of the first film but forgets why they were hits in the first place. Consider the lovely 'Ami Je Tomar' song. In Bhool Bhulaiyaa, it was faintly heard in the background until the song burst forth with its melodious powers in the climax, landing strongly on our senses with maximum effect. It was as if Priyadarshan was saving the best for the last and teasing us throughout the film for something great. As a result, 'Ami Je Tomar' became more than just a song. It became a mood, a suspenseful atmosphere that pervaded every frame. In Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, Bazmee overuses this song and kills its essence. What really drove me nuts was the male version of this song performed by Ruhaan towards the end. It's an ugly experience for both your eyes and ears.
There comes a moment in Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 when Ruhaan looks at Manjulika and says, "Actually, you are full of clichés." The same thing applies to Bazmee here. He is creatively bankrupt and succumbs to recycling clichés. The twin plot device is used for the same old twist where identities are exchanged. To be fair, he pulls it off and manages to surprise us, but the credit for that should mostly go to Tabu, who utilizes her physicality and emotional spectrum to lend a distinctive characteristic to both Manjulika and Anjulika. Tabu is the only terrific aspect of this film. As Manjulika, she provides some heart-attack-inducing jump scares. Her face scares the hell out of you when she stands behind Reet or when she suddenly appears on a bed.
Bazmee could have tweaked certain things and made a different film under a different title. Because Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 doesn't live up to its name. Reet remarks, "Yeh haveli nahi, Bhool Bhulaiyaa hai." Is it, though? In the previous movie, characters got lost and took time to reach a particular place. Remember how Aditya had to ask Siddharth the way towards the bathroom, or how much running Aditya had to do to stop Siddharth from drinking the poisoned tea? You sensed that the characters were indeed living in a big Bhool Bhulaiyaa and that one can get lost without proper assistance. The haveli in Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 never gives us the same vibe. Everybody knows their way around the palace, including the newcomer Ruhaan, who navigates the mansion without any help. If nobody is able to catch Reet and Ruhaan as they try to run away from a group of men, that's because they are chased by blind fools. The two of them merely stick close to a wall, and the people just run past them. All they needed to do was just turn their heads! Never mind, the movie has turned out to be a box office success. Brace yourself for more Bhool Bhulaiyaa installments featuring thinner plots, dumber characters, and insubstantial gags.