Karan Johar, Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap and Dibakar Banerjee — four influential new-age filmmakers of Bollywood with very different styles of filmmaking — have come together all over again to create the anthology horror film, ‘Ghost Stories’.
This is their third collaboration after ‘Bombay Talkies’ and ‘Lust Stories’.
Talking about how their interpersonal relationship has grown since 2013 when ‘Bombay Talkies’ released, Kashyap said: “Our friendship has grown strength to strength and also we have evolved as people. It has become a yearly project for us that gives us a chance to see each other’s works, and also do some experimental work. After the release of ‘Lust Stories’, we were looking forward to doing something interesting. I am sure after ‘Ghost Stories’ we will meet in two weeks to do something new.”
Kashyap has directed a segment in the anthology that features Sobhita Dhulipala.
“Making the film is fine but what excites me the most is our interactions. We really are different in our approach of storytelling and this collaboration makes us think differently on the same topic,” Kashyap added.
Banerjee’s segment features Gulshan Devaiah and Sukant Goel in the leads and is a play on the horrors of urbanisation.
“I just want to mention that although Anurag and I are often mentioned in the same breath, we are really different filmmakers. This idea worked in my favour almost like a luxury because I have no pressure. There is Karan, Zoya and Anurag. So I can do my best experiment here without feeling pressurised,” Banerjee said.
Does that make the ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’ maker complacent?
“No, not really. None of my films in these anthologies have been easy. In ‘Ghost Stories’, too, I narrate a story that is uncomfortable, and technically tough to shoot. Imagine, we are showing a ghost in daylight! There was no other way I could have told the story outside this anthology format. So yes, as long as I am getting a chance to experiment, I will keep taking these luxurious opportunities,” replied Banerjee.
Johar, who has directed one of the four segments, says the horror thriller should make for a great community viewing experience.
“‘Ghost Stories’ comes under the horror genre which people like to watch together. People like to watch and enjoy these kind of films together and they like to feel scared together while watching the film.”
Gulf News tabloid! breaks down the four short films, with the directors giving insight into their respective stories.
DIRECTOR: ZOYA AKHTAR
Starring: Janhvi Kapoor and Surekha Sikri
Plot: A young woman is hired as a nurse to assist a bedridden woman. But all is not what it seems in the house or with the patient herself.
It’s rare that at the age of 74, even after suffering a stroke, an actress appears as graceful, energetic and passionate about life as a youngster. It’s also rare that an auditorium full of people gives a standing ovation when the actress, wheelchair bound, receives her third Indian National Film Award. Surekha Sikri has been through both these realities.
The veteran actress returns to the screen in ‘Ghost Stories’ for Akhtar’s segment.
“Zoya is more complex than you see her. She is very poetic and she has feelings for things around her. The poem by Robert Frost that has been used in the film was so beautiful. I recited it and she used it aptly in the film,” Sikri said.
Akhtar’s story revolves around a bedridden old lady who was beautiful in her youth and has lived a wholesome life. In her old age, when a nurse (played by Kapoor) comes to take care of her for three days, mysterious things start happening.
“It is a very real character in many ways. I often wonder what the subtext would be. I want people to find out instead of me unveiling the story to you,” says Sikri.
Akhtar, who is known for taking up modern-day issues in her films, added: “Fear of ageing and abandonment were thematically things that attracted me. Your body grows old, starts disintegrating and you’re not the same person anymore. You suddenly need to be taken care of, and there is a certain horror element to that. It’s the cycle of life, but it frightens people and that attracted me to it.”
DIRECTOR: ANURAG KASHYAP
Starring: Sobhita Dhulipala and Pavail Gulati
Plot: A pregnant woman is reliving the horrors that have befallen her in the past, even as she takes care of her young nephew who is not what he seems.
“I wanted to create something that would confuse people as to what’s real and what’s not and engage their state of mind. My film comes from the anxiety a woman goes through when she’s pregnant, and the trauma of miscarriage,” Netflix India quoted Kashyap as saying.
“You constantly live in the fear that, will it be this time or not, and I’ve seen people like those people who really want to have children but cannot. I think our monsters are manifestations of our own fear, which is what I decided to explore,” the ‘Manmarziyan’ director explained.
Dhulipala, who plays the traumatised pregnant woman, says that the scars attached to miscarriage and the way society treats a woman who is apologetic for the incident, is intimate and universal at the same time.
“It is an interesting story and I know that it is a reality for so many people. It is a very intimate and a very internal feeling yet very universal. When a woman loses a child — that is if a miscarriage happens — she goes through a trauma. On top of that, her upbringing and social conditioning make her apologetic about her existence for the rest of her life. If a woman fails to give birth, society looks at her as if she is not woman enough — as if she does not deserve the life she has. It is not a reality for one section of society. It is universal,” Dhulipala said.
The story revolves around the bond between a little boy and his pregnant maternal aunt who is desperately waiting for her child to be born, having suffered a miscarriage in the past.
“I have no first-hand experience of parenthood or miscarriage but I have seen people who have gone into depression after miscarriage, and how society makes it worse for them to deal with the trauma. They turn it into a taboo, there is shame attached to it, but why? When society shames a woman, the realisation of it makes you move,” she added.
DIRECTOR: DIBAKAR BANERJEE
Starring: Gulshan Devaiah and Sukant Goel
Plot: The film looks at the horrors of urbanisation through a zombie Armageddon.
Banerjee, who is a fan of the horror genre said that zombie films attract him and he feels that being scared is an evolutionary requirement.
“A horror film should always be something else along with being horror. People are afraid and anxious, walking around with fear in their eyes nowadays. I think zombie films attract me because they hit at the fundamental fear that we all have in two layers,” Netflix India quoted Banerjee as saying.
“One is the fear of us dying. And the second is the fear that all of us will die. As a country, we are afraid and for a society that has learnt to live with fear, for a society that has learnt to shut up with fear — I think it’s the right time for a film like this,” the director further explained.
Devaiah, who stars in the short, admitted he’s not a fan of the horror genre.
“I am one of those people who cannot sit through a horror film, so if you ask me whether I was excited to be a part of this genre, I will say I was not. I grabbed the opportunity because it was my chance to work with one of the finest filmmakers of our time — Dibakar,” Devaiah said.
Goel, on the other hand, was the polar opposite. “I love horror but there is always a question in India whether an actor gets scope to perform in a horror film, and also whether the genre has been taken seriously. For me, it was interesting to be a part of the film. The story is good but my point of excitement was also to work with Dibakar.”
DIRECTOR: KARAN JOHAR
Starring: Mrunal Thakur and Avinash Tiwary
Plot: Ira agrees to have an arranged marriage with Dhruv. But she soon realises that her husband has an unhealthy relationship with his dead ‘granny’.
Director Johar, popularly known for his larger than life Bollywood multi-starrers, called himself a newbie in the horror genre.
“I realised I don’t know how to dabble with the genre. Zoya sent me the script and it intrigued me, but I wanted to do it in my own way. I don’t know horror and I wasn’t looking to make any internal commentary,” Johar said.
In an interview with India Today, Johar stated that directing a horror film was not only challenging but also an exciting opportunity. “I have always been mortified to watch the horror genre and have always stayed very far away from any ghost story! So to direct one is not only hugely challenging but also exceptionally exciting.”
While critics have not been kind to Johar’s segment, the director keeps a very simple approach.
“I did exactly what I wanted to do, showing good-looking people getting scared in a good-looking way,” the director said, summing up his vision for the film.
Johar further added: “I feel scared for my own film. I think other films in this anthology are really scary and my films for other reasons scare me. I think it will take a lot of time to talk about our individual films but we just want to say that we are feeling really excited for it. It’s a really unique concept of anthology.”