At one point in Bhoot Police, a character, addressing a crowd, advises them not to believe in the two tantric babas who have been hired to drive away the local chudail. They have only been hired because their father was a famous tantric. She says: Nepotism ne yeh poora desh barbad kar diya hai. And on cue, Saif Ali Khan and Arjun Kapoor, playing the ghostbusters Vibhooti and Chiraunji, give each other a look. Both actors are of course, products of nepotism themselves and their knowing expression made me smile. But that's pretty much as clever as Bhoot Police gets.
The film is a horror comedy – a genre that is often used by Bollywood as an excuse to peddle lazy writing. Bhoot Police is no exception. Which is astounding because the writing team includes director Devashish Makhija who has co-written and directed the haunting Ajji, acclaimed stand-up comedian Anuvab Pal who has co-written one of my favourite films – Loins of Punjab Presents; Pooja Ladha Surti, whose credits include Andhadhun and Badlapur; and the film's director Pavan Kirpalani who did such a terrific job on a limited budget and in a contained space with the 2016 film Phobia. Here, they all seem to be phoning it in.
The idea had potential – two brothers, one a believer and the other, a non-believer, who are summoned to fight a chudail named Kichkandi who their father had also gone up against. Their clients are two sisters running a tea estate, which now appears to be haunted. Even among these two – Maya and Kanu – one is a believer and the other, a non-believer. This mix of faithful and agnostic, potential pairing of brothers and sisters and the frequent disruptions by a creepy spirit could have made for passable entertainment but the script needed wit and buoyancy. In places, we have flashes of this – Jamie Lever and Amit Mistry also do their part. But mostly, Bhoot Police stays leaden.
The one bright spark is Saif, attempting a mash-up of Boris from Go Goa Gone and Langda Tyagi from Omkara. Wearing outlandish clothes – in one scene, he's in boxers and a jacket – the actor is insistent on having a good time. According to Chirounji, Vibhooti is only driven by two things – paisa aur hawas. Saif takes this flimsy descriptor and runs with it. In one scene, he is flirting with an American girl who says: come with me, you can make America great again. To which he replies: no Suzy, pronounced sooji, my country is needing me.
The other actors are saddled with even less. There's Jacqueline Fernandes who looks smashing but is forced to enact a purposefully silly woman whose life is social media and detox days. With better writing, Kanu could've been a source of comedy. Yami Gautam, who was so lovely as Pari in Bala, doesn't even get these basic character traits. Maya is bland and forgettable. So is Arjun Kapoor, saddled here with being the sincere, younger brother. The most memorable thing about his character is his nickname Chiku.
He lumbers along, as does the film, for more than two hours. Watching Bhoot Police, I realized that a film which is mediocre is more soul-sucking than one that is actively awful because you see glimpses of what might have been.
You can see Bhoot Police on Disney plus Hotstar.