Subhash K Jha reviews the much-anticipated Ghost Stories directed by Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Karan Johar

Review of Netflix film Ghost Stories: A terrific opportunity lost to self-indulgence

Starring Janhvi Kapoor, Surekha Sikri, Vishal Verma, Shobita Dhulipula, Sukant Goel, Avinash Tiwary, Mrunal Thakur

Directed by Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar

Rating: ** ½ (two and a half stars)

After hearing the distinguished quartet of directors and its excitable cast raving, giggling and squirming about the eerie scary experience they went through, Ghost Stories comes as a bit of a letdown.

No moments of an epiphany this time, like the one when Kiara Advani shuddered, and not because the ground shook, in Lust Stories. The closest this anthology of spooked sensations comes to a scene of revelation is when Mrunal Kulkarni (looking impressively sensual in the Karan Johar segment) acts out a near-orgasm while her husband does the needful.

The moment is interrupted by the husband’s dead granny making an unwanted appearance. Johar’s story has a sense of humour, quite unlike the other three grim sullen long-faced stories where the cheerless characters shot in dingy interiors, are drawn into a dungeon of darkness and despair, only to be pulled out of the horror chamber by some inept writing.

Clearly , these directors are not at home with horror. Sadly we are. And not quite as immersed in the home-viewing exercise as Netflix would like us to be. Not like we were in Lust Stories. Oh well, every experience can’t be The Irishman.

The four directors of Ghost Stories want to shock us with images and visuals which would be deemed taboo in cinema. But Shobita (doing a Radhika Apte in the Anurag Kashyap story) chewing on raw fowl meat looking like she has just been rejected in the next Kashyap feature, and the characters of Dibakar Banerjee’s dystopian holocaustic drama eating human flesh (chewing an obviously fake human hand is more humour than horror) are not the evening of chill spill that we expected.

The first story directed by Zoya Akhtar has the lovely Janhvi Kapoor struggling with the role of a young desperate caregiver to a senile bedridden woman (Surekha Sikri). In between Sameera’s bouts of cleaning potty and su-su (her description), her boyfriend drops in for a bit of bang-bang.

I really want to know why Janhvi is cast in this story. She is clearly not comfortable. And really, the gifted Vishal Verma in a walk-on part. Gratitude to Zoya for Gully Boy?

Anurag Kashyap’s pretentious black-and-white story has a smartly wise performance by a child actor (Zachary Braz) who reminded me of Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense. As the possessive insecure boy makes some eerie moves to get rid of his aunt’s unborn child, the story keeps shifting its perceptions until we are left with no coherent plot, only a string of images providing shock therapy to an audience too bored to protest.

Dibakar Banerjee’s zombie story is unnecessarily gruesome and ruinously self-important. Dibakar wants to combine horror with politics when in fact in present-day they are the one and the same.The bleak barren inertia of a town taken over by creepy cannibals could have shown the uneasy relationship between the have-nots and the power brokers. Instead, it’s just a zombie movie masquerading as a political statement.

Finally, the ghost-friendly Karan Johar segment where Atul Tiwary is seen playing peek-a-boo with his grandma when he is not going down on his new wife. Strangely, the couple, probably not clued into porn jargon, calls it a ‘blow job’. Maybe they meant the job that this ostensibly ominous omnibus blows up in our face. One of the biggest offences committed here is the wastage of talent. Heeba Shah, Pavail Gulati, Vishal Varma , Kitu Gidwani and many other accomplished actors struggle to be noticed in walk-on parts.

Finally the veteran octogenarian Jyoti Subhash shows up as a ghost using the ‘F’ word. For me, that was the moment of epiphany in Ghost Stories, not on a par with Kiara Advani’s erotic eruption in Lust Stories. But anyway.

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