Director: Hardik Mehta
Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Varun Sharma and Janhvi Kapoor
Stars: 2 out of 5
Bollywood horror comedy ‘Roohi’, a tale of a young woman possessed by a diabolical witch, is bizarre and convoluted.
Weighty themes such as women's empowerment, the stigma around mental health issues, the societal pressures that young Indian women face and toxic male privilege are all packed into this confusing film that oscillates jerkily between comedy and horror.
For most parts, the viewers are likely to be more horrified by what’s unfurling on the big screen. Even heavy lifters like Rajkummar Rao and Varun Sharma — known for their impeccable comic timing — cannot salvage this messy gore-fest.
Rao and Sharma play two country bumpkins (Bhawra and Kattanni) who kidnap young women for a living. These lovable oafs harbour dreams of becoming broadcast journalists, but they are just glorified henchmen who carry out their boss’ dirty deeds.
They come from a town where ‘pakdaai shaadis’ (catch marriages) are common and reluctant young women are abducted for the sole purpose of being forcibly married. This regressive tradition is a matter of pride for these small-towners.
But all hell breaks loose when they shoddily kidnap Roohi, played unconvincingly by Janhvi Kapoor. There’s more to her than her wide eyes. When night falls, the non-threatening young woman turns into a bloodthirsty witch Mudaipairi (meaning twisted feet). The first half is about these bumbling best friends running amok when Roohi does a personality switch.
While a few one-liners between two warring friends who fall in love with Roohi and her spooky ghost Afza are genuinely funny, many scenes feel stretched and bloated. Rao’s character is in love with the docile, doe-eyed Roohi, and Sharma has his eyes set on the screaming banshee in her.
Kapoor’s character Roohi seems to be suffering from a chronic case of Stockholm syndrome and is gratingly coy with Bhawra, who peeps into her shed as she sleeps and slyly takes her pictures. Bhawra stumbles upon her transformation from a meek woman into a feral monster while he’s taking her photographs without her knowledge. It’s all supposed to be funny, but somehow their brand of humour is lost on us. When did being surreptitiously creepy become an endearing and desirable trait in a man?
Director Hardik Mehta, whose credit includes the highly sensitive film ‘Kaamyaab’, stumbles in this film that blends two contrasting genres — horror and comedy. The comedy isn’t top-notch and the horror fails to spook you. What scares you is that you are more invested in your go-to cinema snack of nachos and cheese, rather than watching the trio’s life unravel.
Though Sharma and Rao put their best foot forward, their camaraderie and chemistry aren’t enough to salvage this forgettable fare. The film also touches upon how the mentally ill are stigmatised and poorly treated in India, but doesn’t dwell on it long enough to make any impact.
The climax goes around in loops, so don’t beat yourself up if you are scratching your head wondering what you just saw by the end of the film. You may also feel the same when you see Kapoor attempt to act. Her perennially lost expression loses its charm after the first 15 minutes and the scenes in which she switches to her snarling mode are ineffective and forgettable.
Watch this at your own risk. Or, watch it if you want a legitimate reason to eat snacks at the cinema, which hasn’t seen too many high-profile Bollywood releases due to the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.
‘Roohi’ was perched as a Bollywood bait to get people into the cinemas again, so you can pay it forward by patronising the film but don’t expect to be blown away by what’s on the big screen.
What’s bone-chilling is that two brilliant talents such as Rao and Sharma were asked to make sense of a shoddy story. The makers of the highly engaging horror comedy ‘Stree’ have taken an inglorious misstep here. ‘Roohi’ is neither scary nor funny, and certainly doesn’t take one for the women’s team or those battling mental health issues.
'Roohi' is currently out in cinemas.