“Roohi”, released theatrically on March 11, was one of the first movies to be played in Nepal’s cinema halls after the lockdowns. Those who could brave being inside confined spaces of cinema halls with their air-conditionings on might have probably watched the movie, which is still showing in some of Kathmandu’s theaters. For others not brave enough, Netflix released the Hindi-language film on its platform this week.
Set in a village called Bagadpur in India, “Roohi” the movie is about a girl called Roohi (Janhvi Kapoor) and the extraordinary things that happen in her life. Bhawra (Rajkummar Rao) and Kattanni (Varun Sharma) are members of a kidnapping gang in the village where bride-kidnapping is a custom. Under the leadership of Guniya Bhai (Manav Vij), the duo kidnap girls and force them to marry grooms that pay them for their services.
An innocent Roohi becomes one of the gang’s victims when a prospective groom hires them to kidnap her. But due to a death in the groom’s family Bhawra and Kattanni are forced to hide her for a few days in an abandoned shack in the middle of a jungle. The two men hold their victim hostage in a shed. Little do they know they are dealing with a sinister force.
It turns out Roohi is possessed with the spirit of Afza, a ‘mudiyapairi’ (a ghost with feet turned backward). Terrified at first without the option to escape, Bhawra then falls in love with Roohi. To complicate things, Kattanni falls in love with the spirit Afza. From then on, the film’s plot tries to explain what transpires in the lives of the three people and one ghost.
To be blunt, “Roohi” doesn’t offer much to the audience. The plot itself is a ghastly attempt at replicating some successful Indian horror-comedies. For horror-comedies to be successful, they need to be either scary or funny, or both for best result. Either that or they have to have a lot of adult content to at least cater to one group of audience. “Roohi” has nothing of the sort.
The film’s writing and Hardik Mehta’s direction are not the only let downs though. Janhvi Kapoor, who comes from one of the most influential families in Bollywood and is heiress to the legacy of the legendary late Sri Devi, embarrasses herself in the film. She is utterly unconvincing as Roohi, a kidnapping victim. And disaster strikes the screen every time Kapoor’s character is possessed; her portrayal of Afza (mudiyapari) is painful to watch.
The same can be said about the more established Rajkummar Rao. As a small-time ‘good-hearted’ goon from a rural village, Rao is unable to display even half the skills he’s shown in films like “Newton” and “Bareilly Ki Barfi.” (Both 2017 movies with Rao in the lead.) It is probably the writing that gives his character a confused appearance, not allowing Rao to get into his elements as an actor. Or playing the same kind of roles in low-budget movies has made him mundane.
The exact same words can be used for Varun Sharma of the “Fukrey” fame. The 2013 comedy film propelled him to fame in Bollywood, with a string of other comedy films to follow. Unfortunately, Sharma has not been able to grow as an actor. It somehow does not feel right watching him do the same thing again and again. If he fails to shed his “Choocha” image he’s been carrying from Fukrey, he will soon age out of Bollywood.
The writing is again to be blamed. Both Rao and Sharma’s characters try to caricature the rural Indian youth. But instead the writing ends up mocking and stereotyping them. The film does try to address the issues of casteism and religious dogmas but the message is easily lost in such a pointless plot.
Who should watch it?
“Roohi” is tolerable only if you have a strong palate for horror comedies. You must be really bored and free to indulge the shoddy acting and direction. Or be a big fan of one of the main characters.