Last decade had these filmmakers celebrating 100 years of Hindi Cinema with Bombay Talkies and women’s sexuality in Lust Stories. Now a decade starts with the same team returning with Ghost Stories theming paranormal. The Anthology does more than just conventional horror. Horror genre is very cinematic and there are enumerable tropes associated, to name a few, association of eerie background scores, jump scares, claustrophobic spaces and shot divisions or even the dolls. There is no conscious effort taken by any of the 4 filmmakers to refrain from cliché of these sorts. But, there is an obvious effort to redefine ‘Horror’, tweak the genre tropes and subvert them within the template format. It’s reflective within the title Ghost Stories. There aren’t Ghosts in the anthology. Because the perception of Horror genre is very typical for the general audience. Maybe, only with the exception of Karan Johar’s shoddy segment the other three had a subverting interpretation to the Horror genre. If Zoya’s segment is about the everyday horror of Life and Death Anurag Kashyap’s emphasises physiological horror and the terrific Dibakar Banerjee’s is social horror.
The common link recurring through and through the anthology was the bird motif. A crow often makes a presence. As per the conventional symbolism from literatures, crow is believed to bring bad luck, primarily death. Ghost Stories opens with an animation sequence, in which crows fly expeditiously, it’s also an amalgamation of the whole anthology. The first short also opens in a picturesque long shot with this leitmotif persisting. The segment is Zoya Akther’s, which features a bed ridden Surekha Sikri and a home nurse accompanying her (played by Jahnvi Kapoor). Zoya’s segment is an interesting choice to open the anthology because it is a very Lighter treatment compared to upcoming terrors, moments we anticipate jump scares are tweaked with very restrained shots and cuts. The segment is about the fear of living and horror for ageing. It has a proper visual grammer and the climax properly ties the knot. Jahnvi Kapoor is a revelation in her career best role till date.
The stand out segments from the whole lot is undoubtedly Dibakar Banerjee’s at first and Anurag Kashyap’s right next to it. Kashyap’s segment is the most creepiest that’ll surely get under you skin. His attempt was also to bring the spectator into the headspace of Neha (an outstanding Sobitha Dhulipala). The segment also Chronicles abandonment as how Zoya’s does. But it’s more a physiological exaspation, an introspection through the psyche’s of a boy who has an obsessive possessiveness towards his aunt and the aunt’s longing for a baby child. There is a spin on karma, that connects to the bird motif too. Refreshingly here, horror tropes like dolls serves other material purpose which impacts the narrative and is not a mere red herring.
Dibakar Banerjee is the one who always comes up with interesting premises. Irrespective of likes and dislikes I always look forward to seeing his take. The best segment of Ghost Stories is rightfully Banerjee’s, that constructs itself as a terrific political film within the horror genre. It is a piercing refraction of the current socio-political environment of India. There is a division of big town and small town, there is grouping between people, burning down of a village by enmities. All these has a political converse of the contemporary scenario we are witnessing at Assam. The narrative is superbly textured with a reverie abstraction, that’s showing the social contingencies as horror. The result is a brutally cannibalistic apocalypse which reminded me of Lijo Jose Pellisery’s treatment of a firebrand political story of S. Hareesh (Maoist) in his Jallikattu.
Horror is not a forte of Karan Johar, and seriously his segment are largely underwhelming considering the decent premise it had. Featuring Mrunal Thakur and Avinash Tiwary as the newly wed couple, the segment of his almost culminates as a superstitious Bollywood horror with instant red-herrings tampering the narrative. Unlike the former three Karan plays with conventional scary tricks that didn’t even had an ounce of effect while watching. Probably the idea was to spoof the superstitions in a light hearted note.
Ghost Stories is a stupendous companion piece to Bombay Talkies and a tweaky horror anthology that is not for the faint-hearted. If Anurag Kashyap’s can creep the hell out of you, Dibakar Banerjee’s is a different ball game altogether that can even cause a mild hysteria. The other two whatsoever is easy-peasy watch.