A thoroughly mixed Indian horror anthology which combines the efforts of four Hindi tastemakers.
Released on New Year’s Day, Ghost Stories (Netflix) combines the efforts of four of Bollywood’s leading filmmakers into a two-and-a-half-hour horror anthology, one divorced from India’s theatrical model and musical, melodramatic expectations. You’d expect, then, that the opportunity to embrace full creative freedom would have been grasped a bit more enthusiastically than it is here; Ghost Stories boasts only one stand-out short — a political analogy wrapped up in rural cannibalism focusing on two young children (Aditya Shetty and Eva Ameet Pardeshi) by Dibakar Banerjee — and several middling entries that don’t suggest a great future for India’s burgeoning scare scene.
Joining Banerjee are Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, and Karan Johar, who all contribute radically different shorts running the entire gamut of universally scary elements and culturally-specific embellishments. Banerjee’s is the best of them, and Johar’s glossy haunting is the worst. The other two are fine, lavishly produced and acted well, but a little thematically thin. How these stories fuse the supernatural and the corporeal doesn’t always work, and when it does it could often stand to work better, but using horror as a means by which to address the nation’s real cultural foibles — as the Oscar-winning short documentary Period. End of Sentence, about the stigma of menstruation in rural India, capably proved there’s a way to go in some respects — is a smart use of a neglected genre.
The presence of Ghost Stories on Netflix will help its reach and, hopefully, encourage a freer creative climate, which is yet another upside of the streaming giant’s international influence that its detractors reliably ignore. This isn’t the best example of what India can do in the field, but it’s a start.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.