Ghoomketu is an improvised name which loosely translates as a star that returns home. The star here is an aspiring writer who comes from a UP village to Mumbai chasing his Bollywood dream. Ghoomketu has a Masters degree in Hindi literature and a great ambition to tell stories but he invariably ends up writing scripts with titles like Khooni Bathroom. When he doesn’t get a job in the local newspaper named Gudgudi, he decides to run away from his overbearing family and unleash his genius on the film industry. He has little going for him except his cheerful enthusiasm and yet he manages to make a dent – sort of.
The best part of Ghoomketu are the sequences in the village, Mahona. Writer-director Pushpendra Nath Misra creates a detailed world filled with lovable, eccentric characters – Raghubir Yadav plays Ghoomketu’s father, a man with a ferocious temper, given to blustering that is unintentionally comical. If Captain Haddock from the Tintin comics was reborn in an Indian village, he might be Dadda. The angrier Dadda gets, the more you want to laugh. Ila Arun plays Ghoomketu’s beloved Santo bua who encourages him to run away. There’s a hilarious scene in which she prays that Ghoomketu’s potential rivals – among them Salim-Javed – get a creative block and can’t come up with any stories. Swanand Kirkire plays his sullen, unmarried uncle Guddan chacha and Brijendra Kala is reliably good as the chief reporter at Gudgudi – he haughtily explains to Ghoomketu that it isn’t easy to be a writer and then promptly hands him a book he has authored on how to become a Bollywood writer in 30 days.
These people and this world are vibrant and authentic. The language, accents, relationships will feel familiar to anyone with a passing connection to UP – from the debate around what needs to be cooked – parwal or muttar, to the way Santo bua reprimands her brothers while fanning them as they eat to the practical advice she gives Ghoomketu’s abandoned wife. Santo bua is a stand-out and Ila Arun plays her with gusto. Watch her in a scene in which Ghoomketu is narrating a horror story to her and she pretends to be scared because she doesn’t want to break his heart. This scene reminded me of that all-time-classic scene in Pyar Kiye Jaa in which Mehmood playing an aspiring film director narrates a horror story to his father, played by Om Prakash. The sound effects, made by Mehmood, are unforgettable.
Misra comes nowhere near recreating that. But the bigger problem is that he falters with the Mumbai portion of the film. There is little that’s fresh in his take on Bollywood. A slew of cameos – including Amitabh Bachchan, Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha – can’t lift the lacklustre writing. The film was made in 2015, so the actors look different. Anurag Kashyap plays, not very well I should add, a corrupt cop named Badlani who is entrusted with the task of finding Ghoomketu. Except that Badlani doesn’t even have a photograph of the missing man so he doesn’t know where to begin. This thread should have yielded much more laughter than it does.
The story of an outsider in Bollywood isn’t exactly new so Misra attempts to spice it up by being formally inventive – characters break the fourth wall and address us directly, there’s a countdown because Ghoomketu gives himself 30 days to make it while Badlani has 30 days to find him, the narrative switches between past and present, one sequence plays out like a black-and-white silent film. But the various stylistic flourishes can’t prop up the storytelling, which is too scattered to hold our attention. Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the naïve but ambitious Ghoomketu is charming – I enjoyed his gaudy shirts and love for little things – like a pumice stone that he cleans his heels with. It’s a fun character but the film doesn’t match his sparkle. It remains sweet but slight.
The truth is that a film on a streaming platform needs to deliver much more than a film in a theatre. On streaming, there are too many options and it’s too easy for a viewer to switch. So filmmakers and creators will have to aim higher because ‘not bad’ doesn’t cut it anymore.
You can see Ghoomketu on ZEE5.