'Phone Bhoot' movie review: This comedy is a horror

Phone Bhoot is a film worthy to bunk school for, if you want to catch on last night’s sleep
A still from the trailer of the film 'Phone Bhoot' (Youtube screengrab)
A still from the trailer of the film 'Phone Bhoot' (Youtube screengrab)

It’s all Stree’s doing. The question at the center of the 2018 film—whether the girl you are seeking is a chudail?—resonated with the masses. Its lore was captivating and the humour was a respite to the horror. But it did open the pandora's box of horror comedies, which remind us every week why we don’t reply to that relative’s WhatsApp jokes.

The latest offering in this tired genre is Phone Bhoot. On the face of it, the film seems like Saif Ali Khan and Arjun Kapoor’s Bhoot Police (2021) with better female representation. Starring Katrina Kaif, Siddhant Chaturvedi and Ishaan Khatter, the film is about, well, two self-proclaimed horror film enthusiasts who start seeing ghosts after they get electrocuted (for some reason electricity gives superpowers in cinema). Galileo Parthasarthy aka Gullu (Ishaan) and Sherdil Shergill aka Major (Siddhant) are then approached by Ragini (Katrina), a spirit who can’t sit still (because she calls herself a bhatakti aatma, geddit?). She pitches them a business idea: she will go and possess people and they can then exorcise them for money.

But they refuse, because: of Hindi cinema ethics. Instead of going to the psychiatrist after getting this sixth sense, they steal this ingenious idea and become ghostbusters. Ragini also joins their team because let bygones be bygones. Also, she has a favour to ask, which she could have asked before offering the idea and they wouldn’t have refused since both of them are in puppy love with her, but I am bothering you too much with the plot. Basically, Phone Bhoot is a logline which made the writers dance in jubilation after it was cracked and no real script-writing was done.

Like most films nowadays, Phone Bhoot raises a lot of questions. Where is this happening? Is it a mall’s haunted house? Why are Gullu and Major obsessed with ghosts? Why is Katrina dressed like a rockstar who probably refused an encore of ‘Dhunki’? This is made by the director of Mirzapur? The attempt at humour is as irritating as an uncle trying to tickle you. It is forceful, filled with wordplays, film references or just references: A possessed school girl caning ‘MC Sher’ Siddhant and saying ‘bohot hard’, Ishaan being called a ‘suitable bhai’ and Katrina giving Hindi lessons.

It feels like the actors are playing characters playing the actor’s perceived personalities. Jackie Shroff, as the villain Atmaram, even plays the Hero (1983) tune on flute. He is a tantrik (I guess?) who lives in a cave suitable for a Shaktimaan antagonist and has minions who call him Aaka. There is no drollery, the laughs come from punchline to punchline. Like you are reading a joke book.

The only respite, if any, is that the comedy isn’t below the belt, except maybe Siddhant’s Major being assaulted in the crotch on several occasions. Both he and Ishaan make funny faces to induce chuckles, as if they are cradling a baby. Katrina speaks through her raised eyebrows but merely reads the script when it comes to dialogue delivery. The delightful Sheeba Chaddha, in a scene, literally runs with turned feet. The film also teases a sequel.

It’s not just the preposterous happenings or the plot holes. In the second half, Phone Bhoot’s jokes dry out and it becomes what no film should ever be: boring. You start thinking about Hindi cinema and its run-time. The film does manage to land some jokes but we don’t know if we are laughing with it or at it. Phone Bhoot is a film worthy to bunk school for, if you want to catch on last night’s sleep.

Movie: Phone Bhoot
Starring: Katrina Kaif, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Ishaan Khatter, Sheeba Chadha, Jackie Shroff
Directed by: Gurmmeet Singh
Rating: 1.5/5

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