Director Hardik Mehta’s Roohi has everything running in its favour. Backed by the makers of 2018’s sleeper hit Stree, the film has an A-list star cast (Rajkummar Rao, Janhvi Kapoor, Varun Sharma) headlining it. The songs are topping the charts and the media buzz is decent all over. Moreover, there is tremendous support from the film industry for it being the first prime Bollywood release during the pandemic period. With genuine sympathies for the last factor, it is heartbreaking to see the film emerge a damp squib. Pitched as a horror-comedy, Roohi is neither scary nor funny. It rather feels as if a group of friends got together after a round of drinks to concoct a screenplay, which – despite its default demand to suspend logic – simply fails to make sense.

I assume Hardik Mehta’s objective perhaps was to create an absurdist fare. Instead, it ends up being just absurd. I remember how Amar Kaushik’s Stree (which featured Rao), too, was inane but delightfully so. It was set in a village where men turned vigilant after 10 pm during a local festival as they feared being abducted by a chudail (translated as ‘witch’). Now, this was a fascinating premise with oodles of scope to derive humour from and it delivered on all counts. Roohi imagines itself in a town where the witch breeds the desire to get married – and the intrigue factor ends right there.

The writers (Mrighdeep Singh Lamba, Gautam Mehra) want their film to carry strong feminist tones. Therefore, they set the story in a town where it is an approved custom to abduct and marry women without their consent. I wonder if the plot point was meant to generate humour or to subsequently land a pro-women message. Either way, it is counterproductive as it is too offensive a narrative to make fun of in a country where abduction, rapes, acid attacks, and the likes are employed as ways to force women into marriage.

Roohi also wants to be a love triangle, which is the most absurd among its long list of absurdities. If Bhawra (Rao) is in love with Roohi (Kapoor with the witch makeup), Kattanni (Sharma) loves Afza (Kapoor with the witch makeup). There is no rhyme or reason but the duo randomly professes their love to both the women. If Rao and Sharma tastelessly repeat their acts from some of their erstwhile films, Kapoor’s uninspiring performance and dubious screen presence do nothing to spark any interest in us. Sadly, there is only so much spice that the actors can add to a film that is devoid of any flavours on papers.

ALSO READ: ‘Stree’ review – When women call the shots

Hardik Mehta who makes his directorial debut seems to have a definitive lack of interest in the proceedings. As a result, the frames, for a good chunk of the film, feel repetitive. The filmmaker conveniently uses a couple of jump scares and stock sounds to prove that Roohi is indeed a horror fare but its listless screenplay gives him no material to work on. While the second act of the film ends on a conflict that neither surprises nor excites, the final acts give the leading actress a handful of lines besides introducing a mysterious character. However, Janhvi’s inability to emote coupled with the short-lived mystery surrounding the latter, Roohi falls flat yet again – to deliver a finale that does nothing to salvage the damage that was already done. The only thing that I could not decipher or fathom was Sharma’s abnormally intense expressions when the sequence was on. Was he actually in love with Afza? One would not know and, boy, this is not The Lunchbox where you would care so much for his emotions. To add to its woes, there is its ambiguous climax which belongs to a different film altogether.

If there were anything worth investing in the Roohi, it would be the songs, which – unlike its loud original score – are trippy and well-picturized. Now is it wise to spend on an unimaginably drab film to enjoy them that, anyway, are not a part of the storyline and are aired throughout the day on television? The choice is yours.

Rating: ★ 1/2