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In Bhool Bhulaiyaan 2, the sequel in the spirit and title of the big movie Bhool Bhulaiyaan, Kartik Aryan tries to compete with Akshay Kumar, just as Akshay tried to compete with Rajnikaanth who in turn tried to bring a new dimension to the character played by Mohanlal in Manichitrathazhu from 1993.

In the original film, a psychiatrist reveals the mystery of a dead woman’s ghost haunting a secluded part of a palace, destroying the lives of the family living there. The psychiatrist is intelligent and wonderfully mad in his approach; he is a perfect archetype in a novel twist to the psychological horror genre. In fact, the combination of character and action was so popular that the story has been recreated quite a few times since Manichitrathazhu.

The Malayalam-language original was played by Mohanlal as the quirky psychiatrist Dr Sunny Joseph, and was directed by Fazil (a famous name in South Indian cinema) whose assistant at the time was Priyadarshan, the director of Bhool Bhulaiyaan.

However, Priyadarshan was not the first to recreate Bhool Bhulaiyaan. The trend started when P. Vasu (another famous name from the south) recreated the original in 2004 in the Kannada language entitled Apthamitra. This version was followed by P. Vasu again in the Tamil remake Chandramukhi in 2005 (it had Rajnikanth in the lead). A remake in the Bengali language entitled Rajmohol was released the same year (thankfully not directed by P. Vasu), which was followed by Priyadarshan’s perception of history in 2007 with Akshay.

Kartik Aryan’s relentless bits of comedy and his unmistakable Akshay-like idiosyncrasies help maintain the sense of story in Bhool Bhulaiyaan 2

Priyadarshan wanted to visit the character – but fortunately not the story – in 2013’s Geethaanjali (an official remake of the 2007 Thai film, Alone), which brought back Mohanlal as Dr Sunny Joseph (he was one of the few good things about that film).

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Akshay’s version, despite being the same character, was more “Akshay” (his comedy brand was – and still is – forever glued to Umer Sharif’s line style). Although Kartik Aryan does not play the same character in Bhool Bhulaiyaan 2, it seems that Akshay’s manners have seeped into the young actor’s style.

But in the case of this film, it’s a big plus, because Kartik’s relentless bits of comedy – and his unmistakable Akshay – like peculiarities – help maintain the feel of the story.

Kartik plays Ruhaan Randhawa, a young boy who has given himself a free pass to roam the world as carefree as a bird. Although we do not get to know much about the character (his self-told background may be a false story, who knows?), We do realize that he is smart in the way scammers are smart.

When he meets Reet (Kiara Advani), a free spirit who is on her way home from a trip, he derives her name and address by glancing at her ticket (he must be a fast reader with 20-20 visions to capture all the details in less than a fraction of a second).

Reet, who is going to marry someone she does not particularly like, convinces Kartik to disguise herself as a ghost whisperer when her family is misinformed about Reet’s death. Reet’s main plan is to make everyone believe that her ghost wants her husband to marry her cousin; the two, she was told, were secretly in love.

Unfortunately, Reet and Kartik break into the wrong side of the mansion, which has been sealed by the family because it is haunted by a ghost that goes by the name ‘Manjulika’.

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Manjulika, as we see in the first scenes of the film, is Anjulika’s twin sister. The two sisters (both played by Tabu) were as different as day and night. Anjulika was a better person who loved to dance; Manjulika, forever in the shadow of his twin, was a better witch.

Manjulika, whose witchcraft began to spiral out of control, was shut down in the west wing of the mansion after Anjulika married the royal family where their father worked. The ghost, unknowingly unleashed by Reet and Ruhaan in the second half of the film, wants what every evil spirit wants: revenge.

Bhool Bhulaiyaan 2 is a horror comedy and not a psychological murder mystery like the original – although it visually tries to stick to the conventions in the 2007 version as best it can.

The film follows the stereotypes found in traditional Bollywood food that has been gone for quite a few years. It’s a welcome return to form because, even though it’s far from perfect, almost everything works. The main characters have romantic chemistry, one-liners fly hard and fast, and supporting characters do their fair share of drama and comedy (Rajpal Yadav, Sanjay Mishra and Ashwini Kalsekar are a fool). The mystery aspect is a bit of a cliché.

Bhool Bhulaiyaan 2 does not have the usual long-drinking, forced panic like a typical Anees Bazmee-directed film. Maybe the director has gained wisdom, or maybe he is kept in check by Aakash Kaushik and Farhad Samji’s script.

Still, despite its shortcomings – most of one’s claim will be the cliché of the story in the second half – Bhool Bhulaiyaan 2 is entertaining food. The film’s global economic success should be enough to convince Bollywood to return to the kind of blockbuster film it once did best.

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Streaming on Netflix, Bhool Bhulaiyaan 2 is rated as suitable for 13 years and older (there are two liplocks in the movie, but nothing bloody or scary)

Published in Dawn, ICON, July 10, 2022

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