Adhering to the Scooby Doo school of horror, Bhoot Bungla is fun from go to whoa with great music, dodgy disguises, lukewarm romance, dancing skeletons and a dash of suspense. This was Mehmood’s debut as a director and he pulled out every trick in the book, and I suspect a few favours from the filmi fraternity, to make it a hugely entertaining romp.
50 years ago Kundanlal was murdered and his wife and son disappeared from the family home. In the present day his three nephews live in the mansion. Ramlal (Moni Chatterjee) gets a telegram that his daughter Rekha (Tanuja) is coming home from Abroad. He prepares to collect her from the airport but brother Shyamlal (Nazir Husain) makes an excuse that he has to go to the office. Ramlal’s car explodes, leaving Rekha an orphan and heiress. Not long after, poor unhinged Ramu (Nana Palsikar) is found dead in a murder staged to look like suicide.
Shyamlal and Rekha move into a stylish apartment in town but can they escape the curse? Or is it a more corporeal threat? Worried that she is sad and afraid, Uncle calls Rekha’s friends to come and get her out of the house. They enter her in a singing competition at The Beach Club, where her rival is none other than Mohan Kumar (Mehmood) and his Youth Club, dedicated to Doing Good. The hi-tech Applause Meter gives Mohan the cup, but the audience is the real winner! Oh yes, hijinks ensue.
Tanuja is excellent as Rekha, sassy and sweet by turns. I really liked that the first thing Rekha did in the new flat was unpack her books while the servants dealt with the clothes and other belongings. She is smart but also raised to be obedient and good so when suspicion falls close to home, she tends to go with the dutiful response rather than a rational one. Tanuja matches Mehmood’s energy, throwing herself into the silliness with gusto. She also delivers a convincing portrayal of Rekha as someone weighed down by fear and losing confidence in their own judgement. I can think of no other explanation for her fleeing the apartment in a frothy nighty and huge fur coat (in Mumbai? Really?). The romance is a minor part of the story, and there are no sparks between Tanuja and Mehmood, but they do have nice rapport. Since the relationship is partly due to Mohan’s Youth Club commitment to helping people, it doesn’t matter that they seem more like friends than being crazy in love. There’s enough crazy to make up for it!
Mehmood’s grand entrance is riding a motorbike up Marine Drive and howling like a police siren. At first I actually thought it was just exceptionally dodgy sound effects and had grave fears for the rest of the film! There can be too much Mehmood, but in this case he gets it just about right and Mohan is wacky but always likeable and genuine. Maybe he was too busy worrying about tricky camera angles (of which there are many) to be The Star and settled for a happy camaraderie with the ensemble. Of course, restrained by Mehmood standards still includes doing drag, slapstick, encouraging children to gogo dance their fears away, and instigating a dance off with gyrating skeletons. But I knew Mohan truly loved Rekha when he shaved his moustache off to frock up, committing himself to having to draw it back on with pencil for at least one subsequent scene. That is commitment,
The music is fabulous and the songs are a real highlight. Mohan sees a blind beggar whose violin has been broken by drunk boys – so he does a West Side Story style dance number exhorting society to wake up and care. Pyar Karta Ja moves the hearts of all youth club boys and girls who were otherwise occupied in construction work. It’s not quite the barn raising scene in Witness but pleasing nonetheless, and Witness didn’t have Manna Dey. Everyone, including the special effects team, saved their best for the Bhoot Bungla song. Watch it now, and enjoy all manner of silliness with Mehmood and RD Burman dancing with skeletons and showing the ghosts who’s boss.
The support cast has lots of excellent performers although I am struggling to put names to all the faces despite the detailed opening credits. I will take a punt that Jerry played Jerry who was an imitation Jerry Lewis. I was particularly fond of Rekha’s exuberant girlfriends (including Lata Sinha). RD Burman is a hoot as Stocky, the cowardly foodie who accompanies Mohan on his ghost busting mission. It’s always good to know that someone has afternoon tea requirements under control. The creepy family retainers – Lakiya and the mysterious and toothy gardener – are perfectly cast with their spooky appearances adding to the sense of unease. Just the thought of Lakiya’s ruffles is enough to terrify me.
Apart from the fluffy entertainment value, the story is reasonably strong. Mehmood balances the various elements well and kept the suspense and laughs coming. There are some twists and red herrings, and things move along at a fair pace. I found the dedication to Guru Dutt quite touching – Mehmood seems to have been a thinker when it came to his own films.
See this for the excellent songs, the generally well balanced suspense and comedy, and the skeleton dance-off. Sure there are some things that go bump in the plot, and a couple of loopholes big enough to drive a Youth Club bus through, but nothing that detracted from the good natured fun. 4 stars!
Did someone say Twist?
Cannot. Resist. Urge. To. Dance!