Roohi is out today for the Bollywood litmus test

Roohi, the first Hindi language film with a star cast to hit the cinemas today after the covid-19 lockdown, had aroused tremendous expectations in the minds of theatre goers. However, the first-day reviews are a mixed bag.

Sayani Das

On Wednesday, Mint speculated that the horror comedy could be “the litmus test for the ailing exhibition industry starved of Bollywood movies for a long time.” While the bars were set high by industry experts, the general audience, too, expected another hit from the makers of the 2018 hit film Stree. The earlier movie had made close to  ₹130 crore in box office collections.

The Rajkumar Rao and Janhvi Kapoor-starrer had heightened the expectations of Bollywood lovers  even as the trailer, which was released on February 16, started with the inter-title “The magic of cinema returns”. For the audience that grasped that Roohi is based in the same haunted, small-town world as the earlier horror comedy, which had also featured Rao, the film could have meant a chance to relive yet another Bollywood thrill.

 However, media outlets and Twitter accounts are rushing forth with a mixed bag of reviews from the first-day audience of the show. According to The Week magazine, the makers have failed in their task if they had intended it as a horror comedy. The reviewer admits that “only the first few minutes in the first half of the film are a laughter riot and the entire credit for it goes to the stellar performances by the two leading men—Rajkummar… and Varun Sharma.” However, as the review says, the film drags after those first bursts of glimmer and comments about the “very shoddy script and confusing direction”.

However other reviews have been more generous. Mohar Basu, who reviewed the film for Mid-day, understood that the  audience of Roohi could “be a victim of their own hopes”. Nevertheless, the film is funny, with Varun Sharma taking on the reins of the humour element in the film. “But the social layering of the film, which Stree executed wonderfully, is considerably underplayed. Despite chills and thrills galore, Roohi falls short on the smarts.”

Twitter users are also divided in their opinion. Some are lashing out at the film as a complete waste of time and energy, not only for the movie-goer but also for the production team. But there are also those who are all in praise of the charm that the actors have women through the 180 minutes.

The film is set in the fictitious town Bagadpur where a tradition of “pakad shaadi” (marriage after abduction) is prevalent. The two lead male characters are commissioned to kidnap Jahnvi aka Roohi and they later realise that this woman has two sides to herself — the docile Roohi and the witch Afza. While this point can be justified as a representation of a split personality disorder, the plot, however, cannot be excused of being slack. As Basu puts it, “The script has far too many inconsistencies that no amount of good acting and great direction can iron out.”

But, with the release of Roohi, more is at stake than the sole craftwork of commercial filmmaking. As Mint reports, the theatre business could have dipped by 67% in 2021 with more than 1,000 cinemas to have shut down. In such a market, Roohi would have to start small despite eyeing a screen-count of 1,500. The Bollywood industry , with its lie-up of films to be released post-Roohi is waiting to gauge this film’s performance in order to further proceed with trade and box office calculations
Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema, told Mint that “depending on its performance, producers will get a sense of where the industry is headed and how feasible it is to release Hindi films in cinemas.”

(with media inputs)