Four filmmakers come together with four short stories with one underlining theme – horror. After the successful attempt of such anthology in Bombay Talkies (2013) and Lust Stories (2018), the team of four directors is back with Ghost Stories on Netflix – exploring the horror genre.
Directed by – Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, Anurag Kashyap, Karan Johar
Produced by – Ronnie Screwwala, Ashi Dua
Starring – Janhvi Kapoor, Surekha Sikri, Vijay Varma, Sobhita Dhulipala, Sukant Goel, Mrunal Thakur, Avinash Tiwary
The film opens with Zoya Akhtar’s segment starring Janhvi Kapoor, Surekha Sikri and Vijay Varma. It was a classic ghost story of an older woman left to die alone in a deserted house in Bombay. A young damsel arrives as a proxy to take care of her as her nurse. And what follows next is an atmospheric horror which conforms to the definitive horror story.
Next is Anurag Kashyap’s psychosomatic thriller, which has a reflection of Kafkaesque narrative artistry. A pregnant aunt played by Sobhita Dhulipala who suffers from childhood trauma and believes she is a human-flesh eating crow.
Dibakar Banerjee’s segment is the third story in the anthology which push the genre even further and explores cannibalism with the dash of horror. A man played by Sukant Goel who is transferred to a remote village for work purpose but little did he know that the village was run rioted by the zombies from the village of upper hierarchy.
The last story is by Karan Johar, which is full of good looking people and family drama, but this time it had spook instead of mushy emotions. An arranged marriage meeting which went well between a guy played by Avinash Tiwary and the girl played by Mrunal Thakur, but the only problem is the guy has to seek permission from his granny – who is not alive!
Unlike other traditional horror stories where the mood, tone and standard have certain imagery which is more physically identical to that of a horror story, Ghost Stories attempt to shatter that convention of story-telling by resorting to allegories and emphasising more on the subtext – which is prevalent in all the four stories.
In Zoya’s film, Sameera played by Janhvi Kapoor is shown to be a young orphan who was thrown in a railway station wrapped in a cloth. She is caregiving an older woman rotting to death played by Surekha Sikri. Both the women irrespective of their age have been abandoned – whose life happens to stumble on to question the existence of a divide based on age, class and neglect in the society. This particular segment might seem a little insipid in terms of story-telling, but some reliable performance by the two leads through their method acting has elevated the watch to a great extent.
Anurag’s story, on the other hand, is ambiguous in terms of its genre, which is not sticking to just horror or thriller. It has exerted itself by homogenising the two – which underlines the efforts of the director to appear more artistic in its visual. In the process, somewhere the clarity is left behind. We know a pregnant woman is part-time raising a child of her dead sister we assume (as we are not told, maybe not important) and the child to be covetous as his love will be shared with a new baby. Also, an irritated husband and the lead’s childhood trauma adds to the plot. These aspects have been used as a device to explore issues such as insecurities, fear of losing and the emotional vulnerability of motherhood – postpartum depression.
Then comes Dibakar Banerjee’s story, which stays true to its genre with the right amount of horror, thriller and comical element. In this, Banerjee strives to question the class conflict in society with a dystopic twist in the tale. It is parallel to the current existential apprehension of our nation which seems to be divided into; us vs them. You have an opinion; you’re doomed to death.
Furthermore, the last and (to be honest) the least interesting of them all is Karan Johar’s narrative of a grannie who refuses to leave her family – even after death – grapples with a subtext of how relationships can get suffocating. Beautiful people, gorgeous clothes, larger than life mansion – put into the genre of horror with some classic devices such as creaking doors, addressing entity which is not visible to the eyes, whispers – does not mature as a legit horror.
All things considered, Ghost Stories is eccentric and progressed a lot from detaching itself from the cliched method of stirring sex with horror. Instead, it has uplifted the genre with subjects like politics and communal violence in society.