Warning: Here be spoilers! If you haven’t seen any of the earlier versions of this movie (Manichithirathazhu, Aptamithra, Chandramukhi), you would be well-advised to avoid reading this post. If you’re looking for a quick evaluation, here it is: Go watch the movie, it’s quite good.
Sometimes I feel like walking up to Akshay Kumar, grabbing him by the scruff of the neck and demanding, “Who are you and what have you done to Akshay Kumar?”
Think about this: the same actor who once graced such eminently forgettable B-movies like Hum Hai Bemisaal with his equally forgettable presence has now become an actor who automatically makes you smile when he comes on screen. Bhool Bhulaiya spends a fair amount of time establishing a fairly intriguing and serious premise about a haunted palace and its new occupants having to deal with assorted mishaps. But five minutes into his intro, you can literally feel the entire audience relax. It’s amazing how good he’s become. Here he takes on a role that was earlier played by Mohanlal (I’m not going to count the Rajni version) — a challenge for any actor. But the good news is, Akshay doesn’t have to be Mohanlal. He just has to be himself.
On the other hand, Vidya Balan has a much tougher task at hand. When I watched the original, I remember being absolutely blown away by Shobhana’s performance. Incidentally, she won the National Award for this one. Vidya Balan is no Shobhana, but thankfully, her performance doesn’t sink the movie. Some of the key moments in Manichithirathazhu depend on the same scene being shown from two different points of view, and what you see when the POV changes is quite startling. In this version, the framing of the shot is not quite the same. My guess is that this had to do with Vidya’s acting ability, and the director adapted the scene accordingly. She does manage to do a good job in some of the later scenes, though. This is not a career-defining performance, but she’ll probably get a fair share of plaudits for it.
Pretty much everything else about the movie is satisfactory. Priyadarshan faithfully adapts the original without adding too much baggage (like Chandramukhi did, much to my disgust), and still manages to bring in something of a local flavour to the proceedings. The performances of the supporting cast are uniformly good. Even Amisha Patel, who can be quite unbearable at times, manages to rein it in. Paresh Rawal is his usual funny self. Shiney Ahuja turns in a competent performance overall, although in some of the early scenes it feels like he could use some voice training. My favourite though was Manoj Joshi, a Priyan regular who usually gets more lightweight parts but proves here that he can do the heavy lifting quite well.
The music is mostly okay – the catchy title tune is clearly the best of the lot, but some of the others aren’t half bad. I quite liked Labon ko, for instance. The camerawork is quite decent, if a little conventional for the genre – if you’ve watched a few thrillers, you won’t find any surprises here.
On the whole, this is a good movie, whether you evaluate it on its own terms or as a remake. Worth a dekko.