Arts & Culture

Ghost Stories: New Year, (somewhat) New Scares

Is Ghost Stories a spooky offering or a movie that you are well off ‘ghosting’?

 

What struck me watching Lust Stories way back when it released, was how all the four anthology films in it, somehow felt connected thematically despite being directed by individuals who are polar opposites of each other.

And this is what’s different in Netflix’s latest Indian offering, Ghost Stories. Directed by the same batch of the aforementioned anthology, this web movie also offers four different stories by Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, Karon Johar, and Dibakar Banerjee.

Apart from the common theme of a supernatural phenomenon, all the stories are really disparate in terms of story and visual elements. And for this reason, the arrangement of the short films seems a bit haphazard. This criticism seems a bit too far-fetched but then, most of these shorts didn’t manage that much of a lasting mark, ending up as just decent attempts at Indian horror.

An exception can be Dibakar Banerjee’s segment which can arguably be the best part of Ghost Stories. The segment hardly has any night shots but the visual imagery of a destroyed village (inhabited by zombie-like hybrid creatures) under a dim sky is enough to amaze the viewer. The basic storyline of Banerjee’s film is that people of the ‘Bigtown’ had come to this ‘Smalltown’ and started eating the locals. This for some reason, starts a wave of a new race of human meat-eaters. The makeup work on these beasts is top-notch, and the entire rural setting made me crave more horrors. If this short is later turned in a full-length feature film, I would totally be up for it!

But, if we solely assess the other films in terms of visual elements, Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap have also done a good job in creating a spooky atmosphere. But then cause of some unnecessary scenes being dragged out, their efforts seem to look a bit pretentious as if the director is forcing you to feel scared (especially in Kashyap’s segment). Regardless, in Kashyap’s film, Sobhita Dhulipala (Made in Heaven, Raman Raghav 2.0) pulls off a convincing performance of a pregnant woman, obsessed with dolls whom she treats as her kids (although it’s only one angle of the story).

So basically, Akhtar and Kashyap’s work on Ghost Stories might be slightly flawed or underwhelming for some, but still, it makes for a good one time watch. But then, for a bizarre and tasteless finale to the anthology, we get Karan Johar…

Now, I’ll admit Karan Johar might hardly be considered as an ‘artsy’ director for many including me, but I thoroughly enjoyed his short in Lust Stories (it was my personal favourite in it). I liked seeing Karan Johar writing and directing a story where there was no need for PG-13 family melodrama and he could get truly get raunchy, sexual, and heart-warming at the same time.

And in Ghost Stories, he tried crafting a half-baked story making it unnecessarily raunchy in scenes; so much so that it felt like a Lust Stories spin-off. The protagonist’s husband goofily (unintentionally goofy acting maybe) talks to his ‘dead’ grandmother (possibly her spirit) every day and that concerns her obviously. Her best friend tells her to give him a blowjob and sort the matter out. And also there are some weird noises which she hears in the house, to which the best friend says ‘That’s the only blowjob that has been happening’.

Puns so bad that they’re good, but they seem so unnecessary. And the edits are so sudden that you are feeling a bit weird anticipating what will happen in the segment, but then you’re suddenly transported to the next scene with a stylish shot of a wedding probably shot at Sanjay Leela Bhansali setpiece. No offence to the production design team behind this wedding and the huge mansion where ‘Granny’ lives, but the setting seems so caricaturish that it might suit a Manyavar ad more than a film.

Whether it’s the orangish ‘candle flame-like’ tone of Zoya’s segment to the dark colourless tone in Anurag Kashyap’s, the colour palettes are different but all spooky. Karan Johar’s film on the other hand, has a cliched look which one might have seen in other Indian horror films. The main reason why I couldn’t appreciate this particular segment that much was because I couldn’t adjust with its tone, compared to the other parts.

Overall, Ghost Stories is a unique presentation by Netflix which shows that Indian filmmakers are indeed trying to up their game in genres where Indian cinema has been mocked usually. Even if it’s imperfect, it does give the average Bollywood viewer hope for better scares in future Indian cinema. Finally, watch the Zoya and Kashyap’s segments for the thrills, bite your nails with Dibakar Banerjee, and you can totally skip Karan Johar if you want too.

 

Featured Image Credits- Netflix

 

Shaurya Singh Thapa

shauryat@dubeat.com

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