How Films Influence Our Notions of Death and the After-world

I think it was in 1993 or 1994 that I had a birthday party screening the one and only 1988 cult classic “Beetlejuice.” (A 7 year old’s birthday party with Beetlejuice, and that too in Turkey, weird family I know…). As an adult, I still love this film, and not only because of its unique premise, but also how the usually ghastly topic of death is portrayed in such a humorous way. Until then in cinema, we had not considered that the dead could be a sweet couple from the suburbs, or that the after-world could be a waiting room not too different than a dentist’s. There are very few films that have actually tackled death in this satirical way, and maybe this is also why the film obtained such cult status over the years.

Bhoot World Mein Teen Cheezo ki Kami HaiThe 2008 Hindi film Boothnath starring Amitabh Bachchan followed a similar path, albeit with less humor. It was successful in normalizing death and the dead however, just as Beetlejuice had done. In Boothnaath, the dead was a grouchy but good-hearted old man (based on Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost in fact), and the after-world was basically an Indian government office.

There have been a few other Indian films that have helped disseminate some of the stigma attached to death, for example the 2013 Telugu horror comedy Prema Katha Chitram and the 2012 Bengali film Hemlock Society. Rather than using satire to display a fantasized and ironically ‘normal’ death, these films mocked suicide by suggesting suicide, thereby bringing attention to high suicide rates among youth in India.

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It’s rather sad that this humorous and satirical take on death and what await us afterward, cannot become more mainstream in cinema. There is a plethora of films and TV shows releasing daily that remind us of the horror that we normally associate with death– serial killers, revengeful murders, painful accidents, and after it’s over, zombies, vampires, ghosts and demons to haunt us and give us sleepless nights. If you notice, death is the main thread in all horror products. I don’t think we even realize the extent to which the big screen influences how we think of death. If only more cinema could take death as lightly as it often does life, and remove some of the stigmas and subconscious fears usually associated with it.

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Bhoothnath Returns Review

Bhoothnath Returns is the sequel of Bhootnath. It’s about Bhoothnath (Amitabh) who because of not being able to scare a child in the previous film, is mocked by other ghosts in “Bhooth World.” So he is sent back to the world to clear his name by successfully scaring a child this time. Bhootnath comes across Akhrot (Parth Bhalerao) in the world, who much like the other boy in Bhoothnath, is the only one who can see him.

The two become friends and come up with a scheme to make money. They get ghosts out of haunted buildings under construction by solving the ghosts’ problems and take money from the building owners in return. Bhau (Boman Irani) asks them to clear out a building but when Bhoothnath and Akhrot go to the building and meet the ghosts, they find out that Bhau is a very bad politician with many bad deeds who always wins elections because there is no good candidate to oppose him. A series of events later, Bhoothnath decide to take on Bhau by standing in elections against him.

Bhoothnath was the remake of the Canterville Ghost. It was about a ghost that fails to scare a family and ends up being helped by them. When I heard that there is going to be a sequel to Bhoothnath, I wondered what they would do for the story since there is no sequel to the Canterville Ghost. I thought that the story would mostly be the same, except that the ghost would be playing antics with a new family.

But the writers decided to do something very different with Bhoothnath Returns. The film is a political satire. I quite enjoy films in this genre, but I found Bhoothnath highly disappointing because the film is like a half baked pie. It’s not illogical enough to be a musing parody and it’s not logical enough to be inspiring. It’s a little about life after death, which was portrayed quite distastefully in my opinion. And it’s mostly about politics but it creates such a hopeless and fatalistic image of Indian politics that even the “go out and vote and change your fate!” message at the end of the film doesn’t manage to instill much hope in the viewer. I mean, what could be more hopeless than a ghost having to run for elections because there is no honest and capable human being that can?

I would not be criticizing Bhoothnath as a parody/satire if it had been done properly. A parody or satire is when one overtly mocks a serious topic like politics in such a way that it makes people think. That’s what should have been done in Bhoothnath because the film is about a ghost becoming an election candidate. The surrealism of this notion would not be bothersome if only the film had portrayed everything in a humourous fashion. But Bhoothnath pretends to be a parody/satire, while in fact it is a drama. But you can’t make a convincing drama about a ghost that’s running for elections. It just doesn’t work and it didn’t in Bhoothnath.

The other strange part about the film was how this was all tied to a reincarnation, life-after-death concept. Again, the writers probably intended for those scenes to be humorous. I don’t know about others, but I was not amused when the after-world was presented as a type of government office with not so kind looking employees. And how come all the spirits in “Bhooth World” are Indians? Does that mean Indians will go to a different place than everyone else in the world when they die?

The scene where Bhootnath is sitting and waiting his turn to come up reminded of a scene from Beetlejuice but it was so poorly done, that it could not even compare. Beetlejuice has to be the best dark comedy of my generation. The concept of death and the after world was portrayed in such an intelligent and entertaining way in that film. I have not seen a film in that genre that compares to it. Bhoothnath is not a dark comedy but it attempts to slightly hit those notes in the scenes when Bhoothnath is in “Bhooth World” and fails miserably.

The only thing that Bhoothnath did right was that the film was released around election time. I think this is the only reason the film was watched and liked by viewers. This film is not really a sequel to Bhoothnath. It’s actually a gyan about elections and voting. Watch it if you are the type to enjoy two and a half hour gyans from a ghost.

Also read: Bhoothnath Review

Bhoothnath

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Bhootnath is the adapted version of the Canterville Ghost, a short story by a well-known Irish writer, Oscar Wilde. I read the plot of the original short story and was surprised to know that Bhootnath is very similar to the original except for a few points.

In the Canterville Ghost, the family moves into the haunted house without believing in spirits and start to experience weird things while there, much like the Sharma family. The difference is that in the original story, the entire family sees the Canterville ghost, and are not afraid of it. It’s actually very humorous because the family adapts to living with the spirit and starts to play games with him. For example, when the ghost makes clanking sounds, the family offers him oil for lubrication. When the ghost makes blood stains on the floor, the family cleans it up with stain remover.

The one child in the family does become especially close to the ghost and eventually helps him move onto the next world much like in Bhootnath. But the ghost in Oscar Wilde’s story is not a good person like the ghost in Bhoonath. The Canterville Ghost is stuck in between worlds and has taken on the task of scaring all of the residents of the palace because he murdered his wife.

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The script of the film is good but the credits go to Oscar Wilde in my opinion, not Vivek Sharma and Sudhanshu Dube. I’ll give them credits for writing Hindi lines. Despite being a film with a main character of a spirit, Bhootnath actually doesn’t overdo the mysticism as some Hindi films tend to lean towards, but that’s the nature of the original story itself. Nath uncle’s spirit is presented pretty normally except for a few tricks here and there, he’s very much like a normal person, which is definitely a good way to make it children-friendly and it stays true to the Canterville Ghost story. After all, we don’t want those little pumpkins hiding under the covers and knocking on their parents’ door to sleep with them now do we. And as usual with Amitabh ji’s films, there is a lesson to be learned about respecting and loving elders.

There is nothing to say about the actors since they are all proven in their art- Amitabh, Shahrukh, Juhi and Satish Shah. The little guy, Aman Siddiqui did a great job in the film too! He’s a really good actor, very natural, definitely has future in the business. I want to give Shahrukh a special mention here because apparently he did not take any payment for acting in the film and even used his own clothing (Shahrukh has his own ship captain’s uniform?! Oooh! But wait, isn’t he supposed to be an engineer on the ship? Anyway…). Satish Shah was super funny, his accent was fantastic. He put on the funniest foreign accent on his Hindi. I love him! And it was so funny that he kept eating the kids’ lunches!

The songs, not really worth of a mention since it was children’s oriented, I think the kids would have liked them. But kudos to the producers for making a film that was as entertaining for adults to see as the kids.

Happy with the film and looking forward to Bhootnath 2 which was on hold last year due to the film’s producer Ravi Sharma’s hospitalization from a lung infection. No updates have been made since then. Who knows when or if the sequel will release although this just seems like an excuse to me. Ravi Sharma has had plenty of time to get better and I don’t think he needs to be in tip top condition to finance a film now does he?

Considering the fact that the film is almost exactly copied from another story, I think even if there are plans to make a sequel, it could end up being very different (read: bad). So maybe they should leave it be.