Starring Janhvi Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao, Varun Sharma
Directed by Hardik Mehta
There are three principal actors playing four main characters in Roohi, all whipping up a Rambunctious mix of mirth and scares that lovers of the horror-comedy genre will love and laugh over until their bellies ache. This is the kind of wildly zany entertainment that doesn’t give us a chance to ask the one fundamental question that we must: do ghosts really exist? Well, even if they don’t they should, so that a film as outrageously over-the-top as this gets a chance to do a macabre yet amusing dance around our subconscious fear of the unknown.
Into this the world of spirits dive two friends Bhawra (Rajkummar Rao) and Kattani (Varun Sharma) who we gather are langotiya friends. Cheesy from head to toe (Rao and Sharma have a lot of fun with hair dye) they speak to one another using a dialectical hybridized mix of what sounds like desi glee and a cheesy angrezi jargon culled from whatsapp messages.
The two friends are in their own words, “despo” to hitch up . The opportunity for love presents itself suddenly to the Jai and Veeru in the North Indian hinterland where, according to the inventive brains behind this bhoot saga, bride-kidnapping is still rampant. Bhawra and Kattani end up kidnapping a damsel in distress who is a two-in-one of her kind. She is the quiet Roohi by day and the demoniacal Afzana by night, though the ‘day’ and ‘night’ are highly flexible concepts in this bizarre synthesis of scares and satire.
“I have seen this in The Exhaustion Of Imli Roj (read: Exorcism Of Emily Rose),” Rao’s Bhawra chips in knowledgeably.
Janhvi Kapoor’s Roohi/Afzani is no Emily Rose. She doesn’t know what she is. A girl possessed? Or a chudail unprocessed? No matter how we see her she is a quietly troubled presence. In a beautifully enacted monologue Janhvi’s troubled woman-spirit tells Rao’s Bhawra how she is tormented by the demon within. “Some say it’s a split personality,” she whispers in anguish bringing into the eerie supernatural tale a touch of psychological reasoning.
There is a sense of tragic doom that surrounds Janhvi’s dual characters. She plays them both convincingly, gently and with a deep understanding of the inevitably incomplete outcome of the human condition. Even when she bellows diabolically Janhvi is a portrait of restraint. Her two male co-stars , on the other hand, are full of beans and of themselves, as though posing for an eternal selfie of life , stopping just long enough to wonder whether to get spooked or just take life as it comes. Ha ha, ouch!
Lushly shot by cinematographer Amalendu Choudhary, Roohi is rich in sounds and visuals of inexplicable origin. The colloquialisms that characterize the two heroes’ virile verbal exchanges tellingly offset the references to the supernatural. As the plot progresses Bhawra and Kattani’s desperation to make peace with their lovelorn feelings for the girl with the chudail within, gets exacerbated to the point of an utter outrageousness.
A canine is introduced belatedly to play a bizarre role in a marriage of convenience. An utterly macabre same-sex marriage also props up to tickle and provoke us. And finally veteran actress Sarita Joshi shows up as a woman so far-gone she could either be a famished ghoul or a half-cocked fool.
Baffling and amusing in turns, Roohi stays many steps ahead of our expectations. It is sometimes exasperating in its oblique ghoulishness but constantly engaging.