Its release shrewdly timed just as the nation goes to polls, Bhoothnath Returns casts a satirical eye on the messy business of Indian politics and the workings of election campaigns.

The twist, of course, is that it’s a 60-something-year-old invisible ghost who’s seeking votes. Having humiliated himself in the ghost community for failing to scare a little boy the last time around (in the 2008 film), our hapless hero Bhoothnath (Amitabh Bachchan) is dispatched once again to the land of the living to redeem himself.

But of course he ends up befriending another precocious tyke, Akhrot (Parth Bhalerao). When the pair learns about the misdeeds of corrupt local politico Bhau (Boman Irani), Bhootnath agrees to fight him in the local elections, determined to improve the conditions of his impoverished constituency.

Co-writer/director Nitesh Tiwari gets to the heart of the story after a few unnecessary digressions, hitting his stride when he focuses on the efforts of Bhoothnath and Akhrot to qualify the ghost as an electoral candidate, and in the back and forth with Boman‘s crafty politician who’ll stop at nothing to discredit his otherworldly rival.

It’s the dialogue that really works here, particularly the biting asides on the state of the nation. During an interview to a television news anchor when Bhoothnath breaks into English, a viewer watching in his home makes the snarky remark, "Chalo koi toh padha likha khada ho raha hai."

The film’s good bits, however, often feel squashed under the weight of its melodrama and its bloated running time of 2 hours and 35 minutes.
There is some lofty sermonizing by at least two different characters, and an over-manipulative song-montage of abject poverty that attempts to squeeze a lump out of your throat.

I will also say that depicting violence against children to appeal to one’s emotions is wrong on so many levels. Still, Bhoothnath Returns is anchored by terrific performances from its central players: Boman Irani, Amitabh Bachchan, and the surprise packet that is Parth Bhalerao.

Despite the uneven writing, the film works because it has heart. I’m going with three out of five.

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