Tag Archives: Ishaan Khattar

Movie Review: Phone Bhoot (2022)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Phone Bhoot on Amazon Prime

Phone Bhoot is almost a very good movie. It has a distinct style and point of view, and Ishaan Khattar gives a hypnotic performance. But it badly needs editing.

It’s not just that Phone Bhoot is too long (though it is, especially for a comedy) or that scenes are too slow (though they are). It’s that all the cruft in the film makes the jokes less funny than if they were quick hits. There’s a reason why the Hamlet quote “Brevity is the soul of wit” endures over the centuries.

For example, take how the film’s main characters acquire their superpowers. Friends Major (Siddhant Chaturvedi) and Gullu (Khattar) are two horror-obsessed slackers. While fixing the glowing eyes of their Frankenstein-like monster statue named Raaka, our heroes are electrocuted. Instead of just convulsing for a few seconds then dropping, director Gurmmeet Singh has the camera repeatedly cut between Major, Gullu, and Raaka as the humans convulse for what feels like forever. The prolonged electrocution sequence has been a tired Bollywood comedy trope for a long time.

When the guys wake up, they find that they can see ghosts. Specifically, they can see Ragini (Katrina Kaif), a beautiful spectre who makes them a proposition. She will help them start an exorcism business, thereby earning enough to pay back the money that the guys owe their fathers. In exchange, they have to help her with a favor, no questions asked.

An interesting theme that comes up as the trio’s exorcism business takes off is the financial ramifications of death. The ghost of a young woman haunts the family of the man who killed her in a hit-and-run not just because of the unfairness of her life being cut short. It’s also because the woman was the breadwinner for her aging parents, who now live in poverty. Other ghosts have similar stories. It’s a thoughtful acknowledgement that justice may be best served in forms other than jail time or equivalent physical punishment.

Another cool thing about Major and Gullu is that they are obsessed expressly with Indian horror movies. There are very few references to Hollywood horror films in the movie, and all of the posters and props in their apartment are from older Bollywood flicks. Ragini’s name obviously comes from the Ragini MMS series, and I’m sure there are tons of other references for those with a deeper knowledge of spooky Hindi classics than I have.

Unfortunately, as with the electrocution sequence, the movie draws too much from outdated comedy and storytelling styles. Jokes last so long that they stop being funny. The story moves too slowly, especially since there isn’t really a b-plot. There’s plenty of room in the narrative for characters like the Major’s and Gullu’s dads to reappear to check on their unconventional sons’ progress, or for there to be more to the guys’ thin association with a witch whose name translates in the English subtitles as Wicky Witch (Sheeba Chaddha).

Likewise, it would’ve been better to have the guys encounter the movie’s villain Aatmaram Shastrashakti (Jackie Shroff) earlier in the story, rather than keep the evil sorcerer sequestered in the underground lair he’s leasing from Big Trouble in Little China‘s David Lo Pan.

Another disappointment is that the songs and choreography are forgettable. None of the numbers will rank among Kaif’s greatest hits, despite pairing her with an excellent dancer like Khattar. (Chartuvedi holds his own on the dance floor, too.)

Kaif’s performance is solid as the stand-in for the audience, rolling her eyes at the two dopes she’s forced to rely on for help. Chaturvedi’s mugging as Major is a bit much at times but mostly fits with his character’s personality. Khattar is the real standout, totally immersing himself in every scene, no matter how silly, and reacting authentically.

Were it 30 minutes shorter, Phone Bhoot would be a real winner.

Links

[Disclaimer: my Amazon links include an affiliate tag, and I may earn a commission on purchases made via those links. Thanks for helping to support this website!]

Movie Review: Beyond the Clouds (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

A complex blend of heartbreak and hope, Beyond the Clouds examines the role family bonds play in making poverty survivable, while showing us that the concept of family needn’t be limited to blood relations.

Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi’s first Hindi picture takes place in Mumbai. An arresting opening sequence filmed by cinematographer Anil Mehta follows Amir (Ishaan Khattar) as he receives a bag of drugs from a car on a highway overpass. The camera sweeps down as he crosses under the roadway, and then it turns to watch Amir and his friend Anil (Aakash Gopal) speed away on a motorbike.

Amir and Anil are small-time drug runners, young and brash enough to overestimate the amount of power they really have. The don they work for, Rahoul (Shashank Shende), decides to put them in their place after Amir shows up at Rahoul’s brothel unannounced. He sets them up to be nabbed in a police raid.

During the course of a thrilling police chase, Amir happens upon his estranged older sister, Tara (Malavika Mohanan), and then hides out at her house. The encounter gives them a chance to hash out the reasons for their estrangement, perhaps setting the stage for a healthier relationship going forward.

Their reunion is short-lived. Tara is arrested the next day for seriously injuring her employer Akshi (Goutam Ghose) during an attempted rape. It falls on Amir to nurse his sister’s assailant back to health so that Akshi can testify to his part in the assault, the only way to free Tara.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of Beyond the Clouds is its depiction of how tenuous even modest notions of comfort and security can be on the bottom rungs of society’s ladder, especially for women. Amir’s association with illegal drugs can bring his wild lifestyle to a halt at a moment’s notice. And his rising of the ranks of Rahoul’s organization comes at the expense of drug addicts and women forced into prostitution.

Then again, Amir is more morally flexible than the average Hindi-film hero, able to pivot from making silly faces at a child to threatening a paralyzed Akshi with a knife without blinking an eye. It’s less a factor of his youth than his having grown up reliant upon such flexibility to survive. Khattar does a creditable job in his debut film.

Mohanan is less successful in her depiction of Tara, who acts zombified in her conversations with Amir after she’s imprisoned. Yet, when Amir isn’t around, Tara seems well-adjusted to prison life, looking after Chotu (Shivan Pujan), the young son of an ill fellow inmate (played by Tannishtha Chatterjee). Tara’s relationship with Chotu embodies the movie’s theme that our “family” is made up not just of blood relatives, but also those we choose to care for.

Chotu is one of many examples in Beyond the Clouds of kids living in places distinctly not child-friendly because their mothers are poor and have no one who can help them. Dozens of little ones run underfoot in jail, an arrangement permitted in some Indian prisons for children under six years old. One worker at Rahoul’s brothel shoos her daughter out of their room when a client arrives. Amir himself becomes a reluctant babysitter when Akshi’s impoverished elderly mother and two daughters arrive from South India and mistake him for one of Akshi’s friends.

The surprising weak point in Beyond the Clouds is A.R. Rahman’s soundtrack. Though the tone of the film isn’t dour, Rahman’s score is still too upbeat for the circumstances. Nevertheless, Beyond the Clouds is a thought-provoking, heartfelt exploration of our shared humanity.

Links