Film: 'Bhootnath'; Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Aman Siddiqui, Juhi Chawla, Priyanshu Chatterjee, Rajpal Yadav, Satish Shah; Director: Vivek Sharma; Ratings: ** 1/2
'Bhootnath' is that rare film set in Goa where you don't see a single bikini-clad woman. The songs are colourful, but they are done with the devilish delight of a rock concert rather than the calculated manoeuvres of choreographic manipulation.
Indeed, debutant director Vivek Sharma harks back to an artless innocence to tell the tale of a benign ghost who comes to life.
The film's most delectable aspect is the rapport that grows between the ghost (Amitabh Bachchan) and the fearless little boy (Aman Siddiqui) who comes to live in the dead man's mansion, takes on the ghost and even gets the better of him. Both Bachchan and the boy have a ball. So do we, in portions.
The film's best scenes feature the Big B with the incredibly confident and polished Aman. The pair just takes over the screen and makes you forget the narrative's all-too-apparent flaws.
There are plot-holes large enough to make 'Bhootnath' an uneasy bumpy ride. But Amitabh and Aman make you smile as they frolic, sing, banter and deliver some really heartwarming homilies on the quality of existence.
Of late, the Big B has been repeatedly seen in interactive situations with little kids. After Ayesha Kapoor in 'Black', Rucha Vaidya in 'Ek Ajnabee' and Sweeni Khare in 'Cheeni Kum', he brings a sense of cross-generation harmony with another acutely cute and young co-star.
While the kids in the other three films were traumatized to one degree or another, Aman plays a normal, bratty but sensitive kid, yet another addition to the growing brood of brilliant child actors in Bollywood after Darsheel Safary in 'Taare Zameen Par'.
The director lets the child be. He imposes no adult perceptions on him. The narration consequently carries an air of old-world naivete to the end. There are no breaks for romantic songs, item numbers and other modern day quirks and compromises.
'Bhootnath' glides forward with the unconscious skill of a little boat in a tranquil lake, which knows where it wants to go without creating any stress within the pace of the grace.
And what would Bhootnath be without the Big B, sportingly sharing lines, visuals, songs and drama with a child who gives him tit for tat, and more?
The rapport between the wandering spirit and the spirited kid could have fallen apart were it not for the cool camaraderie between them. While one is unschooled in acting therefore totally spontaneous, the other is so skilled and schooled that he readily redefines what is cool.
The duo apart, the other characters are largely sketchy. Rajpal Yadav with shoe-polish on his face plays one of the stereotypical Goan drunkards.
Priyanshu Chatterjee as the dead man's ungrateful son struggles to give substance to an under-written role. His character brings into play the age-old conflict between old-world values where a home was considered much more than financial asset, and the new generation which thinks property can be easily bought. Known for their movies that convey moral messages, producers B.R. and Ravi Chopra couldn't let go of the chance to make a social statement.
Juhi Chawla as the flustered mom is sweet and angelic. But she is unable to add anything to the drama beyond a point.
Interestingly, Shah Rukh Khan in a guest appearance clearly tries to improvise on the badly written dialogues mainly in scenes where he pokes fun at his wife's cooking.
Shah Rukh and Juhi continue to share a quaint if not crackling chemistry. But the chemistry here is clearly between the ghost of a 65-year-old and a 10-year-old child who knows he's up against a formidable adversary.
Or maybe he doesn't. Sometimes the motivations underlying spontaneity can be the very opposite of fear.
'Bhootnath' tells us ghosts are not scary, they can be fun. At the end of the blithe film we believe the director even if we don't belive in ghosts at all.