Netflix and chill is just the way we wanted to start our New Year. Except, perhaps not with something like Ghost Stories. No, not because it is scary, but because it isn’t.
Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Karan Johar (in order of their shorts for Ghost Stories) come together after Lust Stories, also a Netflix Original, and Bombay Talkies before that.
It has to be said here that the content in these anthologies have consistently deteriorated from Bombay Talkies to Lust Stories to now Ghost Stories. But even at their worst, Zoya and Anurag are better than most. KJo, however, has gotten it just right this time. But Dibakar outshines everyone else. How we’ve missed this man!
Janhvi Kapoor is a house-nurse taking care of a frail Surekha Sikri. Both Kapoor and Sikri spend their days between the conscious and the subconscious, except they’re of two very different natures. Zoya’s immaculate attention to detail brings us into one of those dilapidated old homes in Bombay – not Mumbai, it gives you that Bombay feel – that anyway gives you the chills. And then there’s something about old women with dishevelled hair and beady eyes. That Zoya, Zoya of all, plays into this stereotype is a bit heartbreaking. The story is predictable: Of loneliness, of abandonment, of holding on to the past and of death – body or soul. Janhvi does well, but she doesn’t wow us the way Bhumi did in Zoya’s Lust Stories short. Sikri has a limited scope, given the narrative is centred on Janhvi. And Vijay Varma should have just remained a voice on the phone. An underwhelming start to the year already.
Horror films traditionally have always resorted to tropes – the ominous caw of a crow, the sudden thuds, the eerie dolls and the uneasy music. It is sad (read blasphemous) that Anurag Kashyap fell for these too. Sobhita Dhulipala puts her all in this short, but the story does nothing to actually scare you. Startle you, yes. But not really scare. Anurag tries to strike a precarious balance between bhoot-wala horror and psychological horror, borrows heavily from The Birdman and The Black Swan, bases it on the tale of the Asian koel and crow – with Sobhita raising her sister’s son but destroying her own eggs, as it were. But much like the shade in which the short is shot – neither black-and-white nor fully coloured – the horror in the short is also neither here nor there. Still pretty underwhelming. When is this anthology gonna get better?
A lavish house that looks like its leapt out of a Sabyasachi catalogue, a high-society family that has a house-help to stir their morning cornflakes for them, and a wedding – KJo plays to his strengths. The basic story, though, is extremely childish. You know what is to happen right at the end of the first scene but you keep watching in the hope that there will be a surprise, that it won’t be, cannot be as predictable as you fear it is. In that, the fear is most real in KJo’s offering. Mrunal Thakur has little to do except run around the haveli in a satin negligee, scream once in a while. And for the millennial audience, shout the F word a bunch of times. KJo’s short is so underwhelming, we actually went back and watched Dibakar’s again.