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Bhoot, the Haunted Ship-Part I, Review: Scares are scarce

Considering the negligible number of ghost stories being made in India, Bhoot, the Haunted Ship-Part I, made by names Dharma and ZEE, would have been a film to look forward to. It turns-up with a mixed bag, offering more mix than bag. Firstly, the title is a giveaway, for we already know that there is going to be a ship and that it will be haunted. Secondly, the film plays totally safe, in catering to both kinds of audiences—those that are satisfied with a horror mystery masquerading as a supernatural outing, and those who will expect to see a real ghost (paradox, I know), nothing less.

Prithvi has undergone a major trauma—the loss of his wife Sapna and young daughter Megha in an adventure rafting foray, for which he blames himself. He had persuaded the two to join him, although there was no life jacket of Megha’s size. Using an oversized jacket, he convinced the two to join him, but disaster struck. Prithvi still nurses the wounds, and sees the two of them often, while asleep or while awake. For a vocation, Prithvi works for a shipping authority. When he receives a tip-off about human smuggling using a container in one of the docked ships, he takes it upon himself to find and liberate the human cargo. It entails taking on ruthless people smugglers, but Prithvi manages, with just a dislocated wrist as collateral damage.

In an unprecedented phenomenon, a passenger-less, crew-less and cargo-less ship called Sea Bird floats down to a Mumbai beach, where it gets stuck on the stony shore. Designated as scrap, it was being towed away when the tow broke, and the ship went adrift. Prithvi’s department is entrusted with arranging its towing away to Alang, in Gujarat, where the world’s biggest ship-breaking yard is located. While arrangements are being made to get a contractor to do the job, Prithvi and his colleague, Riaz, conduct routine inspection. During the inspection, Prithvi notices the presence of super-natural elements. He also finds a camera, which he brings home. Seeing the footage in the camera and experiencing strange phenomenon again, he confides in Riaz, who refers him to Prof. Joshi, an expert on subject of ghosts, also a kind of exorcist.

Like it or not, all criticism, and a little praise, must be laid squarely at the door of writer-director Bhanu Pratap Singh. For his debut, this veteran assistant director chose to build a tale around the extraordinary sighting of the real-life ship in Mumbai, a scene that he recreates effectively and strikingly in the film. Perhaps he did sight the ship himself, way back in 2011. There were various rumours about the ship being haunted, emanating from the number of times its name was changed to the fact that was docked in Muscat port for three years during an inquiry, to the belief that is was used to smuggle arms, drugs, gold and what-have-you, to the reports that it was deserted by crews who either committed suicide or were killed in mysterious circumstances. Grist to the mill, alright. Converted to a gripping suspense/ghost tale? No.

Back stories keep taking the film back, literally. There are as many as three couples with a single girl child who undergo loss of a family-member or two, Joshi being one of them. While we are given updates on Prithvi’s back-story in four or five flash-backs, we are, mercifully, spared the details of Joshi losing is wife and daughter. The third couple forms the much-awaited twist, and all the back-story there is rightfully in place. In fact, we needed more of those flashbacks here, with some degree of credibility, to make the twist really twisty. Revealing any more will sound a spoiler alert.

We are not really told what Prithvi’s job profile is and why does he explore the ship alone, when it appears so dangerous. Along the way, it is mentioned that the ghost might be using him to further its goal. Ghosts can haunt, but are they capable of steering a ship to a city’s shores, getting their target man to come aboard, scaring the daylights out of him and then expecting him to arrange a reunion of sorts. The slithering-like-a-souped-up-snake entity is kept inside a heavily bolted secret room, but roams all over the ship when it wants to haunt visitors. Why, oh why, did they have to bring in a doll that plays horribly screechy music and shifts position time and again? Just because we have had so many Western films about ghosts that use the doll as a spooky prop? A couple of really jolting smash cuts apart, there is little to justify the ‘for adults only certification’ in India, with excisions to bhoot…er…boot. Britain has rated it 15, without cuts, which is about right.

Much is made of an unmarried woman’s pregnancy and how it could affect her future, but the steps she takes to safeguard it develop when the child is already three years old. Late blooming? A crew-member on a ship that regularly carts contraband cargo suddenly develops a crush on the abusive captain’s moll and seduces her. Furthermore, he grows a conscience, and goes about taking pictures of every minute detail of the operations, including the caché that is stored openly, in the hope of exposing the captain and making good his planned ‘elopement’. Any fool could have told him that the odds of him escaping unnoticed were 1000:1, and yet he chances his arm, with not unexpected results. Singh has an ace up his sleeve which he wants to deal only in the last six minutes of his 114-minuter, but by then the game is all but over. We have been lulled into reiterating to ourselves that India cannot make really convincing and gripping horror films. And the unintentionally funny and predictable situations, that elicit guffaws instead of gasps, do not help one bit. Some redemption at the climax, but not totally credible and a little too late.

Riding on a mighty wave of popularity, Vicky Kaushal (Masaan, Raazi, Uri: The Surgical Strike) turns in a performance that is far from exciting. He is a competent actor, but either horror is not his favourite genre or he was not convinced about the script in toto. Apparently, he has done some of the acrobatics himself, and even got a nasty cut on his cheekbone while shooting, as a door fell on him, causing a fracture and needing 13 stitches. (His character’s name is symbolic, for Prithvi means land, and the ship is about water). Bhumi Pednekar (Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Saand Ki Aankh) plays his wife, Sapna (this name is symbolic too, because even after death, he sees her almost every day in his dreams). Rarely would you find the lead actress, albeit in a small role, credited as Special Appearance. Well, the size of the role must have decided the billing. There is nothing special about her acting, which is getting more and more stereo-typical, by the film—the air of nonchalance, the curt dialogue, the dismissive persona…

Ashutosh Rana should have been billed as Special Appearance too, if size mattered. One hoped against the turn of events that there would be a significant, ghostly angle to his role, but there wasn’t a ghost of a chance for such hopes. Sidhhant Kapoor has a small role as the ship’s captain, a filthy lucre chasing, woman-abusing gent. Meher Vij is Vandana, the mother of Meera. It is never explained why a cargo ship needed one woman in its crew, unless the captain brought her on board for purely physical reasons. Emaciated, bony, eerie and looking like a girl of undefined age might have been the requisites for the role of Meera, the girl who is hurled up and down twice within the ship, before disappearing, and Sara Khalid Gesawat slides right into the part. Sanjay Gurbaxani, the ubiquitous Sanjay Gurbaxani, essays the part of a real life character, Agnihotri, and sails through with ease.

Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions’ has ventured into ghost territory for the very first time, with even the name of the banner shown as a symbolic carving. It is not likely to be a happy ride, and critics might find it hard to discover much praiseworthy in the movie. He pushed the release from November 2019 to 21 February 2020, in the hope that the post-production (partly done in Montreal, Canada) will add a special polish to the project. While we cannot fault the film on technical grounds, there is nothing mind-blowing either. Shapes in grey, appearing and disappearing (four-frame shots), jumping up and down and slithering across surfaces have no novelty any more.

Cinematography by Pushkar Singh uses some very acute and top angles to good effect. Rain scenes have the right amount of texture. Though it is obvious that part of the shooting has been done using a real ship, the replication is impressive, including the magnification. Bodhaditya Banerjee is a man on a mission and the editing is frenetic, to say the least. Many scenes and shots in the first half appear just that—half! This adds pace but subtracts understanding. Music by Akhil Sachdeva (songs) and Ketan Sodha (background score) fail to add weight to the narrative, often appearing and disappearing at wrong times.

Karan Johar would be well-advised to treat Part I as the parting shot, and not progress into Bhoot Part II, lest the creeps haunt him for another voyage. Ghosts are always blasts from the past, but this one has neither a memorable past nor a rosy future.

Rating: **


Mumbai: MV Wisdom finally sails out of Juhu beach

The cargo ship was stuck at Mumbai’s Juhu beach for the last 20 days.

India Today


July 2, 2011

Singapore-flagged MV Wisdom was on Saturday successfully tugged away from Mumbai’s Juhu beach, where it was stranded for the past 20 days.

“The ship has been re-floated safely today at about 12.45 pm during the spring tide by SMIT International, a Singapore-based salvage company, with the help of two powerful tugs,” the Directorate General of Shipping said, in a statement.

The vessel was now being taken to Mumbai outer anchorage and eventually it would be towed to Alang in Gujarat, for scrapping, DGS said.

SMIT Lumba, the main salvor (tug-boat) was assisted by India-flagged Greatship Ashmi, owned by Greatship India, in tugging away the vessel.

On June 11, at about 1 am, the ship broke its towing rope while being towed by motor tug Seabulk Plover (Flag St Vincent and Grenadine) on her voyage from Colombo to Alang, for scrapping.

After parting of the towing wire approximately 10 miles west off Mumbai Port, the ship started drifting under the influence of strong monsoon winds and eventually ran aground on Juhu beach at about 8 pm.

On June 19, the operation to sail MV Wisdom from Juhu beach was postponed for about a fortnight. The DGS statement said that due to engine trouble in the lead tug, there were constraints in taking up salvage efforts sooner.

The stranded ship had become a major attraction for beach-goers and children in the area.

Unmanned ‘ghost ship’ oil tanker evades detection off Indian coast before beaching

An investigation had been launched into how the MT Pavit ran aground on Sunday amid concerns about coastal security, which was supposed to have been improved after the deadly attack on Mumbai in 2008.

The National ae, Last updated 04 August 2011

MUMBAI // India’s maritime authorities yesterday were investigating how an unmanned oil tanker managed to drift undetected into the country’s coastal waters before running aground off the coast of Mumbai.

The head of India’s maritime watchdog, the directorate general of shipping, SB Agnihotri, said an investigation had been launched into how the MT Pavit ran aground on Sunday.

“We will in our inquiry be looking at this particular issue,” he told reporters on Tuesday amid concerns about coastal security, which was supposed to have been improved after the deadly attack on Mumbai in 2008.

“We are looking at these 100 hours when the detection has not happened.”

Defence ministry spokesman, Captain M Nambiar, said yesterday that the 13-strong crew of the Pavit sent out a distress call after the ship’s engine room was flooded and power was lost off the Gulf state of Oman on June 29. They abandoned ship the following day.

“It was thought that this particular ship was sunk. After that, the next information was that the ship was off the Mumbai coast and had run aground,” he added.

The ship beached near Juhu beach in the early hours of Sunday. Another ship, the MV Wisdom, had grounded close to the same spot last month.

Coastal security has been a major issue for the authorities in India’s financial and entertainment capital after 10 heavily-armed Islamist extremists hijacked a fishing boat off the Indian coast in November 2008

The captain was then forced to take the boat to Mumbai. The militants killed the crew and came ashore undetected in an inflatable dinghy before attacking high-profile targets in the city, killing 166 and injuring more than 300.

Responsibility for coastal security falls on the Indian Navy, which patrols the outer limits of Indian territorial waters, the Coastguard and Maharashtra state marine police nearer to shore.

Work has begun to salvage the Panama-flagged ship, which can carry up to 1,000 tonnes of cargo, and contact has been made with the vessel’s owners and insurers, Mr Agnihotri added.

The vessel was carrying 10 tonnes of fuel and oil, and 10 tonnes of gas oil, but no spill had been detected.

A case for negligence has been registered with police in Mumbai, the DG Shipping said earlier this week.