[Note: The following review contains spoilers for Ghost Stories]
Netflix tried to do something different this New Year with Ghost Stories. The streaming giant broke records in 2018 after it brought to screen Lust Stories, from four visionary directors of Bollywood – Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, and Karan Johar. It was the first time Bollywood explored sexuality in its varied forms – blurring the line between right and wrong. So naturally, people were excited when they saw that the same four directors are coming out with four more stories, but this time it’s a premise that hasn’t been fully explored in Bollywood.
Horror: Here and There
Let’s face it, horror hasn’t really started in India. 2019 was an amazing year for horror around the world. With movies like Midsommar, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Ready or Not, Us and many more released to entertain audiences, horror fans were at an all-time high. However, this isn’t the case with Bollywood horror. Most of them bombed at the box office. Thus, Ghost Stories was a breath of fresh air for horror fans.
Marketing, Marketing, and More Marketing
Netflix marketed Ghost Stories to no end. Firstly, they decided to release it midnight on the most happening nights of the year. Secondly, it had some big names on the list – Sobhita Dhulipala, Mrunal Thakur, Avinash Tiwary, Janhvi Kapoor, Surekha Sikri, Raghuvir Yadav, Gulshan Devaiah and Vijay Varma among the most well-known. I got ads about the movie on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Spotify as well. So you can imagine how much my anticipation was.
People crave horror. It’s one of the most sought-after genres. Add to that the fact that supply is extremely low, and even one big release can cause a frenzy amongst Netizens.
It’s probably impossible for me to do a general review because all four films are different from each other in tone, style, storytelling and the theme in general. So, I’m gonna talk about each story separately.
Starring Jahnvi Kapoor, Surekha Sikri, and Vijay Varma, this short deals with a paralyzed woman (Sikri) whose nurse (Kapoor) comes to her residence one night for 24×7 care. She’s in a complicated relationship with a married man and things aren’t, in general, looking too good for her. Oh, she also hates her job. However, all is not as it seems in the house as from the first night, supernatural occurrences start to spook her. What she discovers next changes her to her core.
This is the typical horror movie – filled with suspense and lots of known horror tropes. If you’re familiar with and a fan of horror, this one will remind you of movies you’ve seen many times over. A predictable plot done to death by movies throughout generations with stunning camerawork – Zoya Akhtar knows her shots. I wish the story was a bit different.
A pregnant woman is a bird lover to the point it is unhealthy. Childhood trauma has changed her take on children and the concept of motherhood. She has already lost a baby in the past, and she is obsessed with her present one. She is also extremely close to her nephew, who is extremely jealous of the new baby. The nursery is ready – but you can feel something is amiss. Add to that the constant cawing of crows, you realize something is very very wrong. So, when the end comes, you’re feeling very… confused. The colors are leached out – it’s all muted and dark – the atmosphere is beautiful. Genre fans (guilty!) can see all the avenues the story could’ve taken. But, alas, in its present form, it’s not scary. Crows play a very important part of the movie. Moreover, the child thread and the crow thread run in parallel and meet… without actually meeting. I get it, the director wanted to do something shocking – different. But the story lacked soul, probably because it tried too hard to be this different.
A man (Sukant Goel) reaches a village where he has to join work. However, some searching of the abandoned villages brings him in front of two young kids. They are scared out of their wits but are very steadfast about one thing – staying alive. Flesh-eating creatures have taken over their village – all of them are their own families, neighbors, and friends. What follows is a scary social commentary about the evils of humanity. This segment was the most different of the lot. The director, instead of showing supernatural entities, shows a portrayal of the society we are living in, which is scary, if not more.
I love the idea – I do. But to be honest, I was expecting the director to explore the supernatural angle more because my expectations were high. So the ending made me feel kinda conflicted. The comparison was so smart – yet my yearning for scares that were promised made me rather upset.
A feisty woman (Mrunal Thakur) agrees to an arranged marriage with a handsome man (Avinash Tiwary) who seems to be charming, kind and an all-out gentleman. However, soon things take a turn for the bizarre as his dead grandmother becomes a constant presence in the house. Everyone seems to revere the invisible entity whom the new bride cannot see. As a result, her irritation with the bizarre situation in her new home pushes her to a point of no return.
This is one of the weakest links of this movie. Firstly, this segment is more Karan Johar than Karan Johar himself. Extremely expensive sets, elaborate weddings (complete with a song!), plush and exorbitant houses – it’s all there. The focus went behind making a ‘Johar movie’. So, when the horror was delivered it was lackluster and scares was extremely unsatisfying. I felt that the segment could’ve ended much before the ending it got – maybe ambiguity could’ve helped with a script severely lacking.
Ghost Stories is an unsatisfying take at horror. Bollywood still has a long way to go before it can impress audiences with genuinely creepy movies that leave a mark in the genre. However, it does display beautiful performances. My special mention goes to Sobhita Dhulipala and Surekha Sikri. Their excellent performances make up for the unsatisfying scare-fest.
Bollywood, keep trying till you achieve flawlessness – practice makes perfect. You can watch Ghost Stories here.