Ghost Stories: Feature Film Review
Director: Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar.
Language: Hindi, English.
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Mystery.
Release Date: 1st January 2020.
“Netflix entered its way, screaming, into 2020 with Ghost Stories. Everyone had high expectations, considering the directors and the cast. Did it deliver on it or not? Find out!”
A nurse taking care of a demented and paralyzed old woman in her once-lively home. A to-be mother paranoid out of her mind of motherhood due to an innocent mistake from her childhood and the flippantly followed curse. A man who steps into a Zombieland where the children are the rescuers, only for it all to disappear like a nightmare. And a girl who marries into the family of crazies, literally. Four stories weave horror and thriller into Ghost Stories, that will keep you on the edge of your seat, most of the time.
Talk of the town, Ghost Stories had set itself up for high expectations for various reasons. A second venture between the amazing quartet that is Zoya, Anurag, Dibakar & Karan, (after their first film Lust Stories) directing a horror feature for the first time ever sure created a buzz. The Indian film industry has very rarely done justice to a horror film, and Ghost Stories fulfills that void to a major extent.
Dibakar Banerjee takes the cherry with his zombie world. A story of a young man (Sukant Goel) who is transferred to the remote village of Beesghara to find that he has stepped into a post-apocalyptic land. Age-old animosity between Saughara and Beesghara turns into a cannibalism fest and turns the perpetrator into a primal man-eating beast who will eat anyone who refuses to abide by his laws. Two kids guide the young man through the situation, teaching him ways of survival. As soon as you think you have it all figured out, it takes a sharp turn, that will leave you applauding Dibakar’s brilliance. A thrilling metaphorical tale of class divide and capitalism, it explores human nature in its most primal form. Kudos to the make-up team for creating zombies/vampire/beasts that don’t make you scoff.
Zoya goes first in the anthropology by starting out with a linear and seemingly simple story – Sameera (Janhvi) is working as the replacement nurse for an old lady (played by Surekha Sikri) whose old-age has completely caught up to her. She is eerily intuitive in her senility. The story progresses at a steady pace, placing extremely subtle hints that don’t add up until the end. She builds up the thrill and horror, reminding you of the Hollywood film Paranormal Activity. The deathliness of the house, the blabbering old woman, and the constant dragging noise at night creates a sense of impending dread and doom that is so much effective than an actual ghost. It’s a story you would expect to take place, but Zoya delivers it in the most unexpected manner.
You know Surekha Sikri will never do injustice to any of her characters, and she is as spectacular as ever. Janhvi comes as a pleasant surprise, as she adapts perfectly to the desperation that Sameera is- desperate for love, for a home. She is strong in her vulnerability and fearless in her hesitancy to demand what she wants. It makes you more eager to see what she does in the future.
While Zoya and Karan introduce simplicity with a crazy twist, Anurag and Dibakar bring the crazy to the table first with a pinch of the complex. The four stories complement each other to present a unified front that makes up Ghost Stories.
After watching the film, we are certain of one thing- horror is not Karan Johar’s cup of tea. The Bollywood celluloid influence on Karan Johar’s direction is evident, which helps him cinemascope the entire story on a grandeur scale and even give an acceptable contrast between the story and the genre, but fails to address the nuances of a horror story. This results into force-fed, clichéd horror Bollywood movie jump-scares which have never worked, and look out of place in the mold of Ghost Stories.
Anurag Kashyap’s story leaves you in a maze of complexity that leaves you majorly flabbergasted and deeply unsatisfied. Neha is a paranoid mother-to-be, due to her unfortunate past experiences. A psychotic thriller in its entirety, the story unravels in a very chaotic manner, as if the director wasn’t sure which facet he wanted to show as evil. Though an interesting concept, the way the story is fleshed out misses to hit the mark as intended.
Ghost Stories has one foot in the section of the few exceptionally good Indian horror movies, while the other gets lost in clichés and complexity. Worth a watch, though.
Ghost Stories marks Mrunal Thakur and Janhvi Kapoor’s digital debut.
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