This one’s for film trivia freaks, written and directed by aficionados of B-horror flicks – right from Hollywood zombie and stoner movies to cult Indian horror films and creepy supernatural TV series. If you blink while watching Phone Bhoot, you might miss a visual or aural reference to an Indian or American movie. Dhaaba Raam Se appears in shining neon during an action sequence between female spirits, and the immortal Raka from Ramsay Brothers’ Purana Mandir has an important guest appearance.

The two leads in Gurmmeet Singh’s comedy are good-for-nothing horror movie devotees, Galileo “Gullu” Parthasarathy (Ishaan Khatter) and Sherdil Shergill aka Major (Siddhant Chaturvedi). Their apartment is a shrine to horror films, with an effigy of Raka taking pride of place.

A wandering soul, Ragini (Katrina Kaif), figures out that the duo can see dead people and wants their help. But first, they start a ghost-busting business, calling it Phone Bhoot. Their success worries the powerful tantric Atmaram (Jackie Shroff), who manipulates the undead into doing his bidding. Atmaram’s sidekicks Rahu and Ketu are tasked with the job of nabbing Gullu and Major.

The plot, such as it is, is wafer-thin, and the gags look like hard work, but some of the lines by writers Jasvinder Bath and Ravi Shankaran Raj, with throwaway quips that appear ad-libbed, do raise a chuckle. Nothing is spared the horror-afflicted gaze. There is a Lady Dayana (Nidhi Bisht) whose power is in her plaits (TV watchers will recognise where this comes from) and is a Chikni Chudail (Sheeba Chaddha) with her feet turned backward. In a funny piece of self-parody, Ragini tries to teach the Bengali chudail to pronounce moksh and gives up with an exasperated, “Tumhari Hindi weak hai kya?”

The hat-tips, nods and in-jokes never stop. Ragini, chasing after Chikni, gasps, “How far will you run, you have reached Lahore!” Cue the theme of Veer-Zaara.

“You think you are heroes?” says Aatmaram to the young men. “The original was in 1983.” He plays the Hero theme tune on his flute. Katrina Kaif uses her own notorious commercial for a mango drink to seduce Gullu and Major.

And this is just skimming the surface. The production design and VFX team must have had fun on this one. The actors – Jackie Shroff in particular – are in on the adolescent humour and deliver without trying too hard. Without its over-the-top cleverness, Phone Bhoot is an unstructured, make-it-up-as-you-go-along jumble. Just like the Ramsay Brothers horror movies, this one is either an acquired taste or goes straight into the so-bad-it’s-a-hoot pile.

Phone Bhoot (2022).