Horror. A genre that can be as scary as the premise promises to be. Not only for the viewer watching it but also for the storyteller. History suggests the horror films were produced as early as in the 19th century. As viewers, we all have grown up to the scare fare, offered by story tellers such as Wes Craven, Sam Raimi and John Carpenter. Closer home, the eighties were ruled by the Ramsay brothers, who had the final say on the genre. I agree with the fact that the Ramsay movies have not aged well, some might even be laughable than the scar fest it originally offered to be. The fact remains that horror movies have always had takers. But what makes people watch horror movies? Per psychologists, there are three major factors that make watching horror movies alluring – suspense created by the terror or mystery, relevance connected to a personal experience or fear of going through a similar experience and unrealism about the events occurred. The core idea is to evoke the viewer’s darkest nightmare, his fears about the unknown. Netflix’s latest anthology of four shorts – ‘Ghost Stories’ aims to do the same. The four stories, directed by Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Karan Johar chronologically. The four stories are different as chalk and cheese. But the horror or the scare experienced through each of them are subtextual. The idea behind the fear is embedded deep into the mindsets of the characters. 

In Zoya Akhtar’s segment, we see a young woman (played by Janhvi Kapoor), who’s entrusted with taking care of an elderly woman (played by Surekha Sikri), desperately seeks her already married lover. The pain that she goes through sharing her man with another woman and the fear that her happiness is short-lived makes her wary of the situation. The elderly woman, who once was a beautiful lady herself, sees her past in this young nurse. This mad lady, who quotes Robert Frost and keeps looking for his son, in a rare moment of sanity, asks the nurse to treat her life as a gift and live it in her own way, without waiting for anyone. As the climax arrives, the young nurse is seen contemplating these words. 

Anurag Kashyap’s segment deals with a childhood trauma that grows into an obsession. A pregnant lady’s  (played by Sobhita Dhulipala) initial happiness goes wary as she loses the baby. We see her again going into another cycle of pregnancy, while she takes care of her sister’s son. The boy is very attached to his aunt and doesn’t like the fact that her love for him will be shared once she delivers her baby. The events that occur, can be considered real as well as happening inside the central character’s head. A childhood trauma dealing with a bird’s eggs makes this woman believe that she cannot be a mother herself and she sees herself as a demon. Here, the fear of inability makes the character go mad.

Dibakar Banerjee’s segment shares its DNA with ‘World War Z’. In a village that has been infested with cannibals, a man from the outside world tries to come to his senses amidst the flesh-eating zombies. His companions are two children, who tell him that it’s the people from the bigger village who started eating the people from the smaller village. In order to save themselves from getting eaten, the smaller town folks also started eating human flesh. The aftereffects begin with a distorted vision. It’s a spine chilling political commentary about today’s world. But if you can’t see it, that means you’ve a distorted vision. Have you been complicit to similar crimes recently? Think hard.

Karan Johar’s segment is the quintessential ghost story that again deals with childhood trauma. A young man talks with his dead grandmother as if she’s alive. His newlywed wife is paranoid about this. Events unfurled here onwards is about the young wife discovering the reasons for this dead woman’s presence in her life.

Each director plays his/her strongest cards in the suit. But if it has to be ranked then Dibakar Banerjee’s segment is the high point of this anthology, followed by Anurag Kashyap and then Zoya Akhtar’s segments respectively. In comparison to these three stories, Karan Johar’s segment doesn’t seem to have much meat, though it shows enough potential. Dibakar Banerjee shows us an apocalyptic world, where the dominant group have either killed the outnumbered or have cornered them to such an extent, to save their own skin, they join the larger group. This is a riveting story, from a master storyteller whose craft speaks for himself. Anurag Kashyap’s segment which deals with an obscure, gothic horror is again a testimonial to the filmmaker’s passion for art and penchant for doing something new. Zoya Akhtar exemplifies her sense of people and the complexities of relationships. 

There are a plethora of actors in the shorts but the ones that stand out are Gulshan Devaiah, Sobhita Dhulipala, Surekha Sikri, Sukant Goel, Aditya Shetty and Jahnavi Kapoor. Gulshan is one of the most exciting actors of the contemporary cinema today and is simply irresistible on screen. His manners, gait, the physical transformation speaks volumes about this man’s passion for his craft. He and Sobhita do most of the physical acting, for the need of their respective characters. Sobhita is ethereal and does an amazing act. 

In the end, ‘Ghost Stories’ are not just mere stories that deal with horror or ghosts or the fear of the unknown. It tells you about the demon that resides inside you and is just looking for an excuse to come out. It shows you what can happen if you don’t treat life the way it’s supposed to be treated, for life seldom gives second chances. And finally, it desperately asks you not to be desensitised to the events happening around you, for it’s you, who eventually are going to pay for it. 

P.S – After you’ve completed watching the movie, rewatch the credits at the movie’s beginning. And go back to Dibakar’s segment, especially the scene at the school. Look carefully at the India’s map on the blackboard. Can you see it? 

‘Ghost Stories’ now streaming worldwide on Netflix. 


The Cinemawala Rating: 3.5/5

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