‘Ghost Stories’ Review: Build Up, Build Up, Build Up...And Nothing
Ghost Stories - a spook fest or a disappointing show?
Horror isn’t a genre I find myself running to Bollywood for. When it comes to horror in Hindi cinema, it either becomes comical, or simply confusing. Poor budgets for VFX and the common tried-and-tested elements surface more predictably than an ornamented tree on Christmas. After Netflix announced its four-part horror film Ghost Stories, directed by the likes of excellent filmmakers like Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, Anurag Kashyap and Karan Johar - I didn’t quite know what to expect. What dropped on Netflix was simply disappointing, unfortunately.
Janhvi Kapoor plays a nurse looking after an aged paralysed woman in her spooky house. In Zoya’s eerie little world, Janhvi sticks out like a sore thumb. Something about her simply doesn’t fit. Her character seems detached from the things around her, making it impossible for the viewer to connect to her fears. The storyline is weak, but Zoya’s lens and the overall aesthetics manage to save the show. What must be commended is actor Surekha Sikri - she presents to us, once again, pure brilliance. She portrays a different kind of fear - the fear of being lonely, lost, unloved. While Janhvi’s unresponsiveness becomes a distraction, Surekha’s mysterious, pained eyes keep calling you back. The scariest part of Zoya’s ghost story is perhaps this possibility - what if Surekha wasn’t cast in the role?
Anurag Kashyap’s story is about Sobhita Dhulipala, a woman dealing with the horrors of her past, pushed to a point of insanity. A woman trying to get pregnant, but her psychosis surrounds her like darkness. Anurag takes the safe road with this one - but I have to be honest, at times it makes you go “?????”. The sepia tone of his film almost feels like everyone is trying too hard. Anurag’s story is built around Sobhita aka Neha, who as always, fills her character like she was born to play it. Anurag clings to the tried and tested horror imagery - birds and creepy children. The storyline works on elements of shocking grotesque imagery. What Anurag over-does is sound. Almost every scene is accompanied by the not-so-subtle screeching, that very quickly loses its eeriness and simply becomes irritating. I couldn’t help but revisit Black Swan in my head, but perhaps that’s just my not-so-artsy brain. The actors definitely save this one. Both the child and Sobhita are truly excellent.
Dibakar Banerjee’s film explores the classic zombie-apocalypse narrative, set in a small village town. A young man visits a small village only to find out that it has been turned into a horrifying man-eating world. He tries to figure his way out with the help of two children who are the only survivors there. Dibakar’s film builds up very well, however, what falls short is the prosthetics and make-up. I painfully tried to feel some fear, but there was absolutely nothing to cling to. A whole girl is eaten alive and I hardly flinched. The film runs on streams of intelligence and is basically about the survival-of-the-fittest, which is fine. The setting of the film is the spookiest part, and the political undertones manage to find their sitting very naturally and do not feel forced at all. The ‘horror’ part of the film could have delivered more, but perhaps those are my stereotypical non-artsy opinions. Experienced experimenting...
The one man you thought would under-deliver, and he truly outdid himself. What is truly exceptional is that of all the four short-films, Karan doesn’t shy away from his identity. He brings his fancy-house, rich-aunties, and Big Fat Indian Wedding along. He makes space for the horror to creep into a setting he knows like the back of his hand. The old-granny in all of his films is still obsessed with her grandchild, only this time, she is dead. Mrunal Thakur is very good too, though at points it feels like her emotions aren’t dramatic enough. Rest assured, I’d be doing more than moping about my sad new married life if my husband was talking to a dead woman, but hey, I guess that’s me. Overall, the story-line builds beautifully, and the final ghost story in the four-part journey saves the day.
Overall, Ghost Stories was a disappointing watch because the talent involved makes you expect so much more. The stories keep building-up and result in nothing. There are no moments in any of the short-films that command a shriek of horror, no goosebumps, nada, zip, zilch. Karan Johar’s film is very clearly the winner, but this isn’t a competition is it? As an audience I could have very easily done something else with my two hours.
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