A girl is kidnapped from the middle of a street and transported to a wedding venue. She is told it’s for her own good. The boy is an engineer and earns well. The girl initially protests but then eventually agrees to the plan after laying eyes on the pieces of jewellery. This whole charade is filmed with a comical tone, and this tone makes sense. The village, Baagadpur, is known for bride kidnapping. In fact, it’s common practice for them to abduct girls against their wishes – ancient tradition is what it is. This awful activity has become so routine that it has been drained of shock and taken the form of farce. Instead of fighting against it, people have begun to amuse themselves with it. Hence, the jokey gaze lands perfectly.
What a wonderful introduction it is to the world of Roohi. Add on top of that the magnetic presence of Rajkummar Rao, Varun Sharma, and Janhvi Kapoor. Your expectations cannot help but rise. On a wall, these words are painted: “Beti bachayenge tabhi toh bahu laayenge.” So the sole purpose of saving a girl child is to merely trap her into the confines of marriage? You bet it is. That is exactly what we will witness here. Sadly, the way we witness these things is far removed from the promise of that early sequence. Roohi exhausts itself in the set-up and then drifts for more than 130 minutes with a fascinating idea on its head.
It’s clear Roohi is obsessed with the success of Stree. In its desire to replicate the victory of that film, Roohi becomes blind by concentrating just on the exteriors of its inspiration. What made Stree successful was not just an intriguing premise but the execution of it. Stree added colours and flavours to its setting and revitalised the world around it. An effort was put in to include and expand upon the history of Stree, the demon-witch (there were books and not only people discussing her methods). Roohi, in comparison, satisfies itself with the premise and flashes it around like a prized possession. If only it had actually prized its possession by enclosing around it an equally worthy and imaginative structure. Roohi comes across as a wannabe kid who desperately seeks attention by emulating their superiors. For a more crystal-clear picture, imagine all the big-budget extravaganzas that tried to clone Baahubali (and failed miserably).
Your complaints keep piling because the potential of both the film and the filmmakers keeps on making cameos throughout certain points in the movie. The most noticeable of the lot have to be the dialogues (“Darwaza khola toh kamra khaali/khidki pe lagi thi jaali…”) and the meet-cute between Kattanni (Varun Sharma) and Afza (Janhvi Kapoor as the witch; her human name is Roohi). Given the circumstances, the more appropriate word should be bhoot-cute. The witty lines remain strong whenever delivered in the film. As for the bhoot-cute, it gets less and less interesting after the initial introduction. Roohi fails to transcend its idiosyncrasy or handle it creatively. There is a DDLJ spin on it, but that’s it. You see, this is the problem with Roohi. It satisfies itself too quickly and then refuses to push its artistic limits. What a waste of talent it is.
Another problem with Roohi is that it never enters the mind of, well, Roohi. We don’t know who she was or what she was doing before all this. What does she think about being possessed by another entity? How does it feel? Better yet: how did she get possessed in the first place? It’s ironic how the film fails to acknowledge a character from whom it derives its title gleefully. Who is Roohi? A cipher. Even this conceit worked better in Stree because it didn’t give a name to its leading lady. And it’s here you realise how Roohi struggles to get the basics right. Marketed as horror-comedy, it unsuccessfully delivers on both the horror and the comedy (save for very few bits). Forget social messaging (or the personal moral that you are your own soulmate), the least you can do is deliver on the promise of the genre you inhabit. Alas, Roohi needed to possess a better script.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.