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Ajay Devgan, Urmila Matondkar, Fardeen Khan, Rekha, Victor Banerjee, Seema Biswas, Tanuja, Nana Patekar

india Updated: May 29, 2003 19:47 IST

A house-hunting couple (Ajay Devgan and Urmila Matondkar) moves into a highrise apartment that hides a secret. A beautiful young widow had once fallen off its terrace. The man is aware of the fact, but the wife isn't. Soon enough, the latter begins to see apparitions that psyche her out of her mind.

A haunted house in the heart of a megalopolis, a terrified lady fighting ogres of the mind and a wandering spirit out to make its presence felt - that may sound like a recipe for a stale, oft-tasted brew. But trust Ramgopal Varma to put a spin on the most hackneyed of ideas.

He manages to invest the horror genre with a dash of style and sophistication. Not only does he lift it far above the Ramsay rut, he also registers a major improvement over Raat, his last attempt at scaring his audience. Bhoot has characters named Shyam and Keshu, an obvious allusion to the Ramsay clan. No Tulsi?

Technical crispness can never, however, be a good enough substitute for substance. Bhoot, for all its gloss and flair, strains credulity just as much as any run-of-the-mill Mumbai potboiler does.

Ramu relies as much on surprise elements as on stock devices to create an eerie atmosphere: sudden bangs and crashes, fleeting glimpses of an unwanted presence, an ominous looking security guard who keeps an eye on everybody who arrives and leaves, an elevator that that creaks its way up and down its dark, dank chute.

For the first 30 minutes or so, it works fine and Bhoot does throw up moments that scare and shock. But as the film wears on, the sheer predictability of the devices weighs down the narrative.

Halfway through the film, Ramu abandons his experimentation with the genre and settles for a straightforward horror film narrative that revolves around a character that is possessed by a revenge-seeking spirit. The mystery is unravelled all too soon and that precipitates a sudden drop in the tale's grip and bite. The twists and turns become predictable and the denouement is as abrupt as it is illogical.

But no, this isn't "bhaago bhoot aaya" fare. The film has just enough to merit a full viewing. Especially commendable are the performances. While Ajay Devgan is as competent as ever, Urmila Matondkar is a revelation. It would have been easy for her to go overboard, given the edginess of the character she essays, but she manages to strike a balance that raises her performance above the ordinary.

The supporting cast is first-rate: Victor Banerjee as a psychiatrist grappling with a personal tragedy, Rekha as a clairvoyant, Tanuja as a grieving but stoic mother, Seema Biswas as an unhinged housemaid and Nana Patekar as hard-nosed cop are all in fine nick. Just as well: that is about the only consistent aspect of a rather uneven film.

First Published: May 29, 2003 12:03 IST