August 10, 2022
Ghost Stories Review: Dibakar Banerjee Can’t Save Netflix’s Wrong Title, Packaged Anthology

Over the past decade, Netflix has become one of the biggest players in Hollywood. This strength is now reflected in the money being spent on films – the ventures of Martin Scorsese, Michael Bay and Dwayne Johnson together exceeded $500 million (about Rs 3,570 crore) – and how it competes with other studios in awards. Used to be. It has the most nominations at the 2020 Golden Globes to be held this Sunday. But here in India, Netflix simply isn’t at a stage where it can get big-ticket Bollywood directors to make feature-length movies for its platform. However what it can offer them is an outflow of their creative juices, as there are no box office concerns in the beginning.

That’s what we get with the anthology film Ghost Stories, which reunites Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar and Anurag Kashyap – after 2013’s Bombay Talkies and 2018’s Lust Stories – as they try their hand at the horror genre. None of the four directors has done this before, although Kashyap has come closest to his work. The results are completely uneven, though expected in parts. As Johar admits to being at sea in horror, he makes the weakest entry of the lot. Akhtar’s story, though competently shot by Tanay Satam (24: Bharat), is forgettable. Kashyap is ready to be awkward, but also restrains himself. Ultimately it is Banerjee who shines among all.

He’s helped by the fact that his short film sits alongside material that simply isn’t on the same level, but the varying quality isn’t the only problem for Ghost Stories. In fact, the title itself seems to hang onto the whole thing the wrong way. This is a simplification and a mask. Only one in four stories actually involves a ghost. It’s almost as if the makers were interested in linking it to the previous one – Lust stories also premiered on Netflix — and didn’t know how to captivate an audience until they went with something flashy. A subset of horror fans will feel liar for serving it up, while another type of audience simply can’t hit the drama just by looking at the title.

It is Akhtar who opens Ghost Stories, in which home nurse Sameera (Janhvi Kapoor) is filling in for a colleague who takes care of a bedridden elderly woman (Surekha Sikri), who lives by herself in a dirty apartment. Except the old lady feels that her son still lives with her, even though she has no eyes. Sameera initially ignores it, but when she hears strange sounds at night, she naturally gets scared. The production design creates the right atmosphere, and the shots are placed to create the perfect tension and immerse you in the film. Written by newcomers Ensia Mirza and Akhtar, it seeks to tackle the fear of abandonment, but it is too talkative with its thoughts, and has little depth at the end.

The lack of depth is most visible in the segment of Johar’s Ghost Stories – penned by ad copywriter Avinash Sampat – which follows a highly privileged Ira (Mrunal Thakur) who, like herself, Dhruv (Avinash Tiwari) in an arranged marriage. ) falls for. Dhruv is also in love with her, but he is also deeply attached to his grandmother, to whom he talks to her even though she died two decades ago. Rich families and big houses lend themselves to dark secrets and weirdos, but Johar’s approach is too amateurish and trope. The script makes you think for a second that it can live up to the expectations, only to run out of ideas. It’s only material to work on the surface, whether it’s (thin) characters, (repeated) dialogue, or (ineffective) execution.

It shares one of those aspects – the repetition of information the audience already has – with Kashyap’s Ghost Stories story, which seemingly does not rely on it to retain its audience, usually crossing boundaries. Disappointing for a filmmaker involved with pushing. Set in ’90s Britain with a heavily desaturated look surrounded by monochrome borders, it centers on a paranoid, pregnant woman (Shobhita Dhulipala) who adopts her late sister’s child Ansh (Zachary Braze). Written by Sacred Games assistant director Isha Luthra, it treats the drama with nightmares and a series of flashbacks, but turns to its hard-left grandeur as the character still feels unearned. It is missing a piece or two.

ghost stories sobhita 3 ghost stories netflix

Sobhita Dhulipala in Ghost Stories
photo credit: netflix

Thankfully, that’s not the case with Banerjee’s Ghost Stories film — she even wrote it — which mixes class commentary and mainstream horror elements in one winning package. He is also the only one who tries with humor and succeeds. Cinematographer Ranjan Palit (cracker) invokes westerns and borrows from hitchcock, It follows a man (Sukant Goel) who comes to a village to find it empty, leaving behind a young boy (Aditya Shetty) and girl (Eva Amit Pardeshi). He has told that everyone has eaten. The film is filled with brilliant metaphors for today’s socio-economic ills, especially in an increasingly-divided India, Banerjee never giving up on what she wants to say. Its only problem, at times, is the elegant display.

As you can tell, Banerjee is one of four who try to be political. His social horror story draws on the ugliness of caste, corruption and immorality, and directly touches on the degradation of small towns due to the spread of urbanisation. (Their Ghost Stories segment is one of two that involve a monster.) The other three are happy to work with personal horror stories that touch on inner fear. While this is equally valid as an exercise, they all fall short in one way or another. Kashyap’s thoughts are deeply buried in the film, and though Akhtar leaves open to interpretation, it doesn’t reward you for the idea. Meanwhile, Johar has nothing to offer.

But the weirdest thing isn’t the ingredients, it’s the packaging. There’s no reason for Four Stories to exist as an anthology film. Unlike the previous two, Ghost Stories was not designed for the big screen, where audiences would have to watch them all at once. Instead, it is made exclusively for Netflix. Why not split it into four-part mini-series when they exist standalone and can be viewed as such? (Sure, crows have an emergent look, but they are superficial in most entries.) There is no convincing argument for not being so. Although it matters little when not everything on the inside is special.

Ghost Stories is streaming on Netflix worldwide.

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