'Ghost Stories' Review: Element of horror comes across as a breath of fresh air

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali Khan

The quartet of Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar, and Anurag Kashyap is back with yet another portmanteau film to follow up Bombay Talkies (2013) and Lust Stories (2018). And this time around the stories are tied together by the theme of horror. And, aptly so, the film is titled Ghost Stories, and it features an ensemble cast that includes the likes of Janhvi Kapoor, Mrunal Thakur, Sobhita Dhulipala, Vijay Varma, Surekha Sikri, Avinash Tiwary, Gulshan Devaiah, Kitu Gidwani, and Sunit Tandon, among others. Just like Lust StoriesGhost Stories too has been co-produced by Ronnie Screwvala and Ashi Dua under their production banners RSVP Movies and Flying Unicorn Entertainment, respectively, and is released as a Netflix film.

But why has it been released as a Netflix film? The major reason of course is that the web and OTT platforms offer greater scope for creative freedom. In other words, the makers are at an ease to experiment with both the content as well as the form. And if one examines the four segments of Ghost Stories one thing becomes quite evident. All the four directors have made conscious efforts to push the creative boundaries.
The opening segment is directed by Zoya Akhtar and it’s nothing like anything she has ever done before. It stars Janhvi Kapoor as Sameera, a nurse appointed to look after a very old female patient, Mrs. Malik, essayed by Surekha Sikri. Now, Sameera is good at her job but she doesn’t seem to enjoy it very much. She is constantly distracted by her lover (portrayed by Vijay Varma) with whom she constantly talks on phone. The segment is a slow burner and Zoya saves the big twist for the very end. But, the scenarios and conversations keep one hooked. Also, Janhvi manages to show a very different side to her. Vijay Varma once again succeeds in leaving his mark in a short time. Surekha Sikri is brilliant as ever.
The second segment is directed by Anurag Kashyap and is shot in black and white. Kashyap chooses not to stick to the conventional horror tropes. He instead forays into the realms of magic realism with Sobhita Dhulipala delivering a very convincing performance as a troubled pregnant woman.
The third segment, directed by Dibakar Banerjee, delves into zombie menace of a very unique kind. The segment marks a return to form for Banerjee who has been struggling of late. It’s not just genuinely scary but also loaded with strong socio-political commentary. There are few filmmakers around who are better than an in-form Banerjee when it comes to getting the mise en scène right. Here, he brilliantly creates a nightmarish world governed by fascist, man-eating zombies that would haunt you for a very long time.
The final segment, directed by Karan Johar, stars Mrunal Thakur in the role of a bride, who discovers that all is not what it seems in the mansion that she has come to live after her marriage into a wealthy family. Johar’s segment is also the funniest of the lot and it succeeds in delivering the chills without trying hard to scare anybody.
The element of horror in all the four segments comes across as a breath of fresh air, especially in comparison to what we are used to seeing in Hindi films. One really hopes that this would inspire other Indian directors to do similar experiments with horror.
Rating: 7/10
A version of this review was first published in The Sunday Guardian
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