Ghost Stories & Kiddie Hunts - What Works In Sujoy Ghosh’s Typewriter

Arushi Sinha - 60 weeks ago

Sujoy Ghosh, master of Hindi thriller films, shows his childhood influences in shaping the horror series Typewriter.

(A still from Typewriter)

Sujoy Ghosh has moved laterally to the horror genre with Typewriter, the relatively new Netflix series. While the series has opened to mixed reviews with most finding it’s storyline crowded with typical horror references and digressions into the past as well as weak comic relief, Ghosh, along with his co-writer, has attempted to create a series that recalls childhoods where ghosts, ghouls, banshees and playing detectives is common. Speaking to the media around the series’ release, the filmmaker has spoken about his early horror literature influences - ranging from Satyajit Ray to Edgar Allen Poe to Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhyay and horror folktales of Bengal. It’s this aspect - of horror through the lens of children - that takes centre stage in Typewriter, a horror adventure of sorts that has enough twists and turns to keep one hooked. 

Typewriter seems to be rooted in what is a common thing to do to while away time in Eastern India. During long power cuts, wet, dusky evenings and eerie silences, exchanging ghost stories and going on strange hunts is commonly done by kids. The series is set in picturesque Bardez, a small town in Goa with lush green valleys, a trademark church, a cemetery and a looming, large haunted villa. In more ways than one, this reminds you of solitary evenings spent in remote parts of India, particularly smaller towns. In fact, with his maturity into thrillers, over the years, Ghosh has handled intrigue and eeriness artfully. 

(A still from Typewriter)

Ghosh made his directorial debut in 2003 with Jhankaar Beats, mint fresh with its references to doomed love and relationships in urban India, a subtle romantic comedy. Then followed forgettable fare like Aladin and Home Delivery, which had Ghosh trying to fit in with Bollywood’s standard story telling. One must take note that this was also the decade of over-the-top family dramas with blinding dozes of glamour and the Shah Rukh Khan school of acting holding forth, catering to a romanticised dream of homeland to non-resident Indians. In this clamour, Ghosh didn’t find his voice. 

It was in 2012 that he stood out with his form of story telling. In Kahaani, a meeting of minds with Vidya Balan, a rare actor amidst a clutter of stars in Hindi cinema, brought to life different shades of Kolkata in an intriguing thriller. For Ghosh, one aspect of his project ‘is a study of motherhood’ - the instinct of a mother to protect her baby inspired him to develop the story. A very noticeable aspect of the film was the fact that Ghosh employed the technique of Guerrilla filmmaking which meant that shooting was kept a secret from the public eye. Most of the landscape shots were filmed without making it obvious to the public, thus not attracting the attention of the Kolkata residents. Kolkata’s seedier neighbourhoods come to fore, as do trademark cluttered, historic spots. Bengali literature has traditionally focused on hauntings, mysteries and crime with a touch of noir; Ghosh’s Kahaani played these elements up. Its sequel, Kahaani 2Durga Rani Singh didn’t have the same impact but managed to bring to life a complex, layered performance by Vidya Balan in the role of a conflicted protagonist. 

(Behind the scene still of Badla featuring Sujoy Ghosh, Amitabh Bachchan and Taapsee Pannu)

Earlier this year, Ghosh remade Badla, officially remaking the Spanish film The Invisible Guest. Some have questioned a completely sincere, scene by scene remake of a film already streaming here in India. But Badla managed to deliver taut, undertoned performances and a tense drama with Amitabh Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu and Amrita Singh. 

His small films seem to be the forum where he expresses most freely, without inhibitions. Ahalya, starring Radhika Apte as seductress, is a post modern interpretation of a tale from the Ramayana. It’s eerie and surprising, and a huge hit on YouTube. Similarly, Anukul, an adaptation of a Satyajit Ray short story, starring Saurabh Shukla and Parambrata Chattopadhyay, is innovative and engaging. Short films are about maximising a concept within limited time; and he has done so with the suitable tone for this format. 

Like his short films, the filmmaker has utilised actors rather than stars to deliver an intriguing first season of Typewriter. Palomi Ghosh stars as Jenny, the owner of the haunted villa and it’s central character; with Jishu Sengupta, Samir Kochhar, Purab Kohli and four young kids - Palash Kamble, Mikhail Gandhi, Aarnaa Sharma and Aaryansh Malviya. The kids seek ghosts, while the villa unearths an age-old horror; there’s a blood moon, a ghoul from folk lore and gruesome deaths. It might not be deep, but it sure is entertaining, with cliff hangers concluding each episode. 
One can’t help but notice that most of this series’ crew seems to have Bengali names; indicating shared fascination with ghost stories from folklore of childhood. Sujoy Ghosh has displayed his command over the thriller format, with understated moral tones in all his recent work. More Typewriter like short format stories from this filmmaker are worth waiting for. 


Typewriter / Netflix / Sujoy Ghosh / Kahaani / Badla / Palomi Ghosh / Jishu Sengupta /

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of The Film Hashery.

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