Italian author Giovanni Boccio’s 14th century collection of novellas The Decameron have provided the framing narrative for several horror films and television shows. In 101’s India’s web series Great Indian Ghost Stories, a blackout in a Goan dive bar leads to a storytelling session spanning multiple episodes.
The English-subtitled Konkani series follows the anthology format popularised by American television shows such as American Horror Story (2011) and Tales From The Crypt (1989).
Horror narratives are often held up as a mirror to society, and when it comes to Goa, the first thing that comes to mind is the image of the debauched tourist. All the cliches of Goa are packed into the eight minutes of the first episode The Old Bastora Road. The protagonist does an extremely long line of coke on the bonnet of his SUV, and chief storyteller Kustodio and the sundry inhabitants of the liquor den dig into juicy bits of fish as the narrative unfolds.
After drawing on contemporary fears, the second episode, So Long, Sister, becomes a re-imagining of the satanic child narrative from such films as The Exorcist (1968) and The Omen (1976). The only sign of haunting is a young girl with upturned eyes, an image so overused that it is amusing than is frightening.
The Ghost of Guirim and The Baga Creek Drowning explore the past and the present of the fictional Kustodio family. Rather than creating fear and suspense, the episodes pay greater attention to the production design: old bungalows with Portuguese influences, grandmothers in rocking chairs dressed in floral gowns, and fishermen in boats who miss their daily dose of feni.
The series is billed as an exploration of regional folklore and horror stories “from Kashmir to Kochi”. The eight-minute format isn’t enough to build dread, and while it makes for quick consumption, it also renders the yarns easily forgettable. Deft acting is not enough to prevent the episodes from becoming parodic. The tales won’t be out of place at your average teen slumber party. By telegraphing the ending long before it comes, the makers ensure that the audience doesn’t care when the twist finally makes its appearance.