Bhoot: The Haunted Ship review: Vicky Kaushal rides the storm and keeps this haunted ship afloat

Kaushal’s intense show, technical brilliance help the Bhanu Pratap Singh film ride over choppy waters

Rating: 3 / 5

By Mayur Lookhar

The key to overcoming a phobia is by simply facing your fear. For a man who fears water, throw him in the deep end of the pool. Panic and you drown, but if you hold on to your breath, no water is deep enough to sink you or your spirit. The fear of the natural can be overcome, but how does one face the unnatural?. Here you are thrown into deep waters trying to raise your head above the surface, and your blurry eyes confront a creepy evil creature. Jeez, panic sets in and you drown. If you’re lucky then you might still survive the water, but is there any escaping from the clutches of evil that lies beneath?

Vicky Kaushal had earlier admitted to having a aqua phobia. Yet, he chose to dive into Dharma Productions’ Bhoot: The Haunted Ship [2020]. Before Prithvi [Kaushal] finds himself in deep waters, fear comes ashore as Seabird, a dead ship mysteriously lands up at Mumbai’s Juhu Beach. [This Seabird has nothing to do with the famous ghost ship of Newport, Rhode Island that disappeared in 1750-60]. There were talks of the film being based on a couple on an abandoned ship, but the disclaimer makes it clear that this is a piece of fiction but any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. The last known whereabouts of the desi reel Seabird was in 2001, when it left from Colombo to Gujarat, before it disappeared in to the ocean.

Why is it that ten years later, Seabird has shown itself at a Mumbai beach? Prithvi is the unlucky one assigned to survey the dead ship. The spooky rumours around the ghost ship come true as Prithvi confronts his worst nightmare,

You’ve seen the creepy crawly creature in the trailer, but there is a intriguing backstory to the haunting of Seabird. We leave it upon the audience to decipher it themselves. Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions had produced the horror-in-the-wild Kaal [2005] before but part one of Bhoot: The Haunted Ship [2020] is an altogether different beast. Dharma are largely known for making romantic family entertainers. However, the idea of eternal love is turned on its head in this spooky Dharma Production tale.

Director Bhanu Pratap Singh’s maiden feature is not quite the scare fest one anticipated, but it does give us few nightmares. Much of it stems from its eerie setting. The idea of evil holed up inside the rustic dead ship was never explored before in Hindi cinema. Part one of Bhoot: The Haunted Ship scores high on technical front. Production designer Aditya Kanwar carves a haunting indoor structure of the dilapidated ship. Prithvi and his little team face a daunting task scurrying through the dark, rustic rooms in the ship. With no clean path to run, any unnatural occurring would mean that a panicky person is more likely to hurt himself ramming into heavy rustic metal. Prithvi has a nasty fall, but there’s surprisingly no great physical damage.

Gone are the days when a creature or evil spirit stared you long in the face. Today, filmmakers rely more on atmospherics and the jump scares. The evil has a mere pop up, pop out presence. The first half gives you plenty of jitters pushing you back on your seat, while some close their eyes. The eerie dilapidated indoor structures, Ketan Sodha’s deathly background score create an atmosphere of genuine fear. The spooky scenes have a sense deja vu to it, but the neat visual effects make it a chilling experience.

The under water sequences are generally shot in a deep swimming pool. Once in water, makers can create any world they desire, but the difficult scenes here are when people reach the surface water and the background needs to look genuine. The poor chroma of the city landscape as Prithvi is brought to surface looks anything but neat. That’s the odd technical fault though.

In the days of Ramsay brothers, there’d often be one person who isn’t fully convinced of the haunting. We can’t recollect the title, but there is a lasting dialogue of Raza Murad in an old school desi horror, “Aisa bhi toh ho sakta hain ki ussey kise zehriley keede ne kaat liya ho,” (It may be possible that s/he has been bitten by a poisonous bug]. Thankfully, there is no such poor rationales here, but Prithvi believes that the entity inside may not be evil but Meera is simply possessed and she needs to be rescued. This despite the creepy entity crawling on roofs with twisted limbs. So, after initially being haunted by the creepy thing, Prithvi now has a certain empathy for it. This empathy stems from his personal loss. However, in the effort to unraveling the mystery, the fear factor is taken out of the film. That’s never good for a horror flick.

The key to solving the mystery is Vandana [Meher Vij] who was the lone survivor from Seabird in 2001. Remarkably, Vandana is found in a church. Presumably, it is a Hindu character, but there is no explanation as to why Vandana visits a church. May be, she is too secular and respects all faith. Vij was much appreciated for her show in Bajrangi Bhaijaan [2015] and Secret Superstar [2017]. but she doesn’t replicate the same intensity here.

Ashutosh Rana has another cliched role as Professor Joshi who aids Prithvi in taming the devil. Joshi though is more like a old school psychic who’s simply switched to western clothes and a gadget. Joshi though is a calmer version of Professor Agni Swaroop [Rana] of Raaz [2002]. Bhumi Pednekar has ‘special appearance’. You wished to have seen more of her.

Bhoot: The Haunted Ship [2020] largely stays afloat on the effort of one human and its technical brilliance. Kaushal shows his versatility again. His gets into the mindset, the emotional state of Prithvi nicely. Prithvi no longer fears his hallucinations. He’s stopped his medication for he wants no end to the hallucinations. “I don’t want to move on,” Prithvi tells Professor Joshi. But the man is no lunatic. He believes he’s been chosen to solve the Seabird mystery. Kaushal’s impressive in large parts, but partly drops the anchor in the latter half.

The film has a fine story. You just wished that the mystery, climax unfolded in a more engaging, more frightful way. It is Vicky Kaushal who rides the storm and keeps this haunted ship afloat.

While the crux of the matter seems to be resolved but as always, a horror flick ends with a spooky image that teases you suggesting that it is far from over. Vicky Kaushal said that a second part would depend upon the success of the first film. He even casually said that if part one doesn’t click, then he may even get replaced. He partly overcame his aqua phobia by swimming in 20-25 feet deep waters but as Kaushal himself stated, the litmus test would be to go scuba diving in the sea. Perhaps, Bhoot Part Two: The Haunted Ship might be the way to beat the aqua phobia completely.

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