Bhoot (2003)

“This film of mine is just an attempt to SCARE you and it in no way reflects my belief in the SUPERNATURAL.”

“I also caution PREGNANT women and people with WEAK HEARTS to view it at their own RISK”

–Director, Ram Gopal Varma.

Thus reads the opening crawl of the Hindi fright fest Bhoot. Bhoot, for you non-Hindi speakers, translates into Ghost, but I can assure you neither Patrick Swayze nor his stupid “Seduce a Woman via Pottery Wheel™” shenanigans make it anywhere near this fairly scary piece of cinema.

Bhoot served as my introduction to Hindi horror cinema, and from what I understand, it was the right film to do so. Apparently Hindi cinema, or Bollywood as it is affectionately known, is usually rife with song and dance numbers. I barely like comedy mixed with my horror so you can imagine the utter disdain I would feel if a character from a movie I was enjoying would suddenly burst into song for no reason. Perish the thought!

Bhoot first appeared upon my horror radar when a story broke that a man actually had a heart attack in a theatre out of sheer fright during the film’s initial run. I checked into this, and yes, it did happen. That incident, coupled with the William Castle like warning before the film’s opening credits, had me more than intrigued.

The film’s setup is fairly simple and very familiar. A young couple find an apartment that they absolutely love for a very reasonable price, only to be haunted later by the horrid things that have happened there. All the pieces are in place for your run-of-the-mill horror tale, but Bhoot ups the usual ghost story ante a bit by interjecting a well planned murder mystery and even some ghostly possession.
There’s no head spinning or pea soup spitting to be found here though. Instead Bhoot relies more upon the acting talents of its leading lady, Urmila Matondkar. As the newly possessed Swati, Matondkar delivers quite the performance; however, due to the aforementioned lack of F/X, the possession scenes seem more forced than physical. More sleep deprived than scary looking. I applaud the filmmakers for not throwing in any lame CGI to simulate the possession, but hey, c’mon, at least grab some powder to make her look a little pale. Mess her hair a bit! ANYTHING! Just watching her snarl and convulse didn’t cut it for me. At least not on a horror movie level.

Aside from that, Director Varma also seems to be a fan of international horror. The film plays a lot like a love letter to Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on films with some verbatim like camera work and chills. Varma does seem pretty competent at the helm of a feature, but some of his shots go on way too long. Watching the same elevator go up and down for five to ten seconds at a pop numerous times is completely maddening. I mean ok, I get it. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Point made?

With a little tightening and tweaking here and there, Bhoot could have easily taken its place among some of the better horror films out there. Instead it ends up being just good enough to warrant a watch or two. Booray for Bollywood!

Bhoot (2003)
(Varma Corporation Limited)
Directed by Ram Gopal Varma
Starring Urmila Matondkar, Ajay Devgan, Nana Patekar, Fardeen Kahn

3 out of 5

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Steve Barton

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.