The good news is that Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 is not the worst Hindi film I've seen this year. The bad news is that it's one of the worst horror comedies I've seen in years. By the end, my fond memories of Bhool Bhulaiyaa were all but vanquished. By the end, I wasn't sure about who was possessed, who was sane, who was pretending and who was sad. I was, however, sure that the language of Bengali was absolutely slaughtered by every non-Bengali actor of the cast. I missed Priyadarshan. I missed Akshay Kumar. I missed Vidya Balan, who I thought was of Bengali descent for the longest time, thanks to Parineeta and Bhool Bhulaiyaa. I missed KK's voice crooning Labon Ko. The handful of laughs come from the only character inherited from the original (which itself was a remake), Rajpal Yadav's Chotte Pandit. And maybe Sanjay Mishra, who can mumble his way out of trouble at will. The rest try so hard and get so far, but in the end it doesn't even matter. I digress. That sentence got away from me a bit.
Anees Bazmee movies are terrible when they try to make sense. Some of his best work has been fully committed nonsense: Welcome, Singh Is Kinng, No Entry (sort of). Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 is reluctant to go the whole hog – some of its 'horror' is too self-serious, with complex flashbacks and a Tabu double role, and the comical interludes feel like a break from the actual film. The result is neither a parody nor a full-fledged supernatural drama, which is why I ended up laughing at the film and not with it. There's a climactic twist involving twin sisters that would put an Abbas-Mustan potboiler to shame, but then again, the real twist is that it took 15 years to conceive a sequel about a Bengali ghost trapped in a Rajasthani mansion that has not one reference to Satyajit Ray. Also, I thought the entire point of ghosts or churails is that they can walk through walls and doors. But the one in the Bhool Bhulaiyaa oeuvre remains dutifully locked in a room until someone mistakenly opens the door years later. I mean what's the point of being dead if you're basically Rapunzel without the hair?
Now for the plot. Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 opens with one of many, many scenes that could have been discarded by an editor. A ghoul is already raining violence on the Thakur family, until she is imprisoned in a bedroom – a story that will already be narrated in the future, but it is still shown anyway because why not? The film then happily moves to 18 years later, when a drifter named Ruhaan (Kartik Aaryan), who seems to have grown up on a staple of Imtiaz Ali movies, meets a girl named Reet (Kiara Advani) on a bus in the mountains. She is going back home from her medical hostel to get married, and he convinces her to have some fun – so a music festival magically appears in the middle of the snowy wilderness. Soon, Reet, whose name does not rhyme with Geet at all, convinces Ruhaan to come back with her to Rajasthan and participate in the worst plan ever. The bus they were supposed to take crashes, so Reet decides to play along and let her family think she's dead. She hopes that this will clear the path for her fiance to marry her sister, for they've long been in love. (In an ideal universe, she would have been mistaken for an Onion satire piece). Naturally, Reet and Ruhaan hide in the haunted mansion of her childhood. But things go awry when her grieving family walks in on Ruhaan, who has to then concoct a whole story about Reet's friendly ghost being present amongst them. It's only a matter of time before the real ghost, Manjulika, throws herself into the mix.
I get that logic is not a priority, but neither is coherence. It took me a full hour to understand how all the family members are related. (Where are those Tarantino-esque intro plates when you need them?). I thought the Tabu character was married to the Thakur patriarch (Milind Gunaji), but it turns out she is his daughter-in-law, married to his paralyzed son. It also turns out that Tabu is not Reet's mother but her sister-in-law. Reet is apparently hiding in Ruhaan's room, even as he gets famous as a new-age antaryami, but the film makes zero effort to visually conceal her. She stands behind the window, at the top of a staircase, or watches from the balcony, clearly in plain view of everyone who cares to look up. Yet, it feels as if they're all playing one of those hide-and-seek games where indulgent parents pretend like they can't see their very visible kids. At one point, I wondered why the movie doesn't just go rogue and become a survival thriller about Reet and Ruhaan indefinitely carrying on the facade, getting married behind closed doors, having kids and growing old – all of this in a single bedroom while the rest of the family stays blissfully oblivious.
But Manjulika has other (boring) plans. The backstory is like a python that squeezes itself to death by mistake: Black magic, madness, jealousy, betrayal, murder, paralysis, the works. The first half meanders and meanders, biding time till Manjulika is released, almost willing Kartik Aaryan to invoke his inner Akshay Kumar – the way he walks, talks, cracks up, cracks down, laughs, fat-shames, curses. The resemblance is uncanny but the imitation is jarring. Kumar always had great comic timing, and though Aaryan manages to make a few lines sound amusing, his physical comedy lacks the crass fluidity of those glory days. Kiara Advani has little to do except hide, because this is really Tabu's film – and not entirely in a good way. The veteran actress is the backbone of the bizarre horror comedy, but there are times when she's so into her role that the movie is almost forced to be as serious. One can be faulted for being good in a bad film, just as one can be faulted for hamming in a good film. There are shades of her Andhadhun character in this one, and that's not a title I was expecting to mention in this review.
One of the last shots of Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 shows a ghost effortlessly floating through a closed door. That same door. To say I felt cheated would be an understatement. Are you telling me a Trishul on the lock was enough to keep it inside for 18 long years? 18 years is a long time. Maybe the last horror film it watched before it went in was Krishna Cottage in 2004. Can you blame it for wanting to stay inside?