Ghost Stories review: Janhvi Kapoor, Shobita Dhulipala’s fine acts not enough to lift this dull anthology

Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Karan Johar ‘s maiden tryst with horror is no nightmare

Rating: 2.5 /5

Film: Ghost Stories ( anthology )

Directors: Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar

By Mayur Lookhar

A New Year’s Eve is least likely to be spent narrating ghost stories.   After a night of revelry, waking up late and viewing a spooky tale is perhaps not a bad hangover remedy. Well, at least producer Ronnie Screwvala and Ashi Dua hoped that their Ghost Stories [2020] would serve that purpose.  After Bombay Talkies [2013], Lust Stories [2018], Screwvala, Dua and the quartet of resident directors – Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Karan Johar – are back with their third anthology film, Ghost Stories.

Four different stories and an array of young talent on display with Jahnvi Kapoor, Sobhita Dhulipala and Mrunal Thakur leading the charge.

Up first is Zoya Akhtar’s thriller that sees Janhvi Kapoor playing a private nurse/attendant.  Samira [Kapoor] agrees to her colleague’s request to look after the bed ridden Mrs. Malik [Surekha Sikri].  Feeling lonely, Samira calls her boyfriend Guddu [Vijay Varma]  to the house.  The nurse though soon realises that the old woman’s delusions are no dementia.

No surprise to see Dhulipala reunite with her mentor Anurag Kashyap.  The second story has Dhulipala playing a pregnant woman Neha, who has an affinity for crows. She regularly feeds the crow(s) [unseen] nestled in a punctured ceiling of her store room.  Neha’s little nephew [played by Zachary Braz] is both curious and peeved by her behaviour.  An innocent [perceived] error from the past comes back to haunt Neha.

Dibakar Banerjee takes us to Zombie land in a remote village.  A visitor [Sukant Goel] stumbles upon this remote village where he’s left intrigued by the fears of a young boy [Aditya Shetty] and a girl [Eva Ameet Pardeshi]. The visitor soon realises that their fear is not misplaced with the undead baying for human flesh.

Love is the essence of Karan Johar films, and the filmmaker brings it to his ghost story too.  Ira [Mrunal Thakur] finds her soulmate through an arranged marriage with Dhruv [Avinash Tiwary]. It doesn’t take long for the honeymoon period to be over as Ira is left disturbed with Dhruv’s paranoia over his late grandmother [played by Jyoti Subhash].   The search for truth only spells troubles for Ira.

Karan Johar and Zoya Akhtar’s respective story has a sense of déjà vu to it.  Dibakar Banerjee incorporated a subtle socio-political horror angle, while Kashyap’s story is nestled in a myth.  On the face of it, Ghost Stories [2020] threatens to give the viewers new chills, but it largely fails in its spooky endeavor. Akhtar, Kashyap, Banerjee and Johar’s maiden foray into horror is no nightmare.

The biggest disappointment to this anthology is the poor plot and screenplay of the Karan Johar directorial.  For a sanskari [cultured] filmmaker, you are taken by surprise with women shouting out the F word in a Karan Johar film.  Kiara Advani’s vibrating charam sukh [masturbation] in Lust Stories [2018] was comical, but Johar has pushed the envelope a bit with Ghost Stories. We have Misha [Kusha Kapila] advising her friend Ira to satisfy her man with a blojob.  It’s not sex talk but the poor screenplay and hamming by Johar’s actors that breaks the deal. Tiwary is particularly unbearable.   Usually, one expects the final story in an anthology to uplift the film but Johar totally disappoints here. The lone bright spot in this story is the screen presence of Thakur. There’s a sexiness attached to Thakur that’s never seen before.

The penultimate Dibakar Banerjee story is barbaric but its subtle socio-political undertone helps it stand out from the rest. The stellar acts by Sukant Goel and child artistes Aditya Shetty and Eva Pardeshi drive Banerjee’s plot.  It’s admirable how the child artistes don’t flinch in the face of such terror.  Gulshan Devaiah, too, leaves his mark in the little appearance. The neat make-up and prosthetic help in giving an authentic visual experience.

The Anurag Kashyap, (co-writer) Isha Luthra story leaves you in a bit of limbo.  There’s a certain novelty attached to it, but yet it plays out in an absurd way.   Child actor Zachary Braz and Sagar Arya, who plays Neha’s [Dhulipala] husband are terrific.  Though an unconventional beauty, but Dhulipala also has an eerie look about her.   Give the character a cannibalistic touch, and Dhulipala will dig her teeth into it.  The colorist gives a nice hue to this tale, but the poor Computer Generated Imagery fails [CGI] it to give Neha the right wings.  Kashyap’s story does instill a sense of fear but the dour screenplay perhaps leaves you disgusted.

Of all the tales, it is Zoya Akhtar’s story that is perhaps the most simplest and predictable.  However, the Gully Boy [2019] director makes it so engaging.  The uncomplicated plot rides on the back of impressive show by Janhvi Kapoor and veteran actress Surekha Sikri.  She sports a Kalki Koechlin-like hairdo, but Kapoor shows marked improvement from her debut film Dhadak [2018].  Kapoor picked the subtle nuances of her character to give an admirable, convincing performance.

Save for the Karan Johar story, you can’t fault the efforts of all the cast.  Each story stands out for its production designs, cinematography and haunting background score.  A good horror relies on the atmospherics to create the fear.  All four stories are rich in atmospherics, but none quench your thirst for a thrilling horror. 

Ghost Stories does throw up few intriguing tales, its gives you some chills. Besides, it is remarkable to see two horror tales with children at the forefront of the plot, just as we saw earlier with Sujoy Ghosh’s Typewriter [2019]. For Netflix, Ghost Stories is an upgrade from Ghosh’s poor drama Typewriter but it is still not the finished article. It is unlikely to give you nightmares and it’s certainly not your hangover remedy.  Better to just relax in the early days of 2020 and enjoy the chilly weather.

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