Spoilers ahead for the Netflix series ‘Typewriter’.
The last time we saw Palomi Ghosh in Goa, she was belting out Konkani pop songs in shiny dresses and falling in love with her married mentor and band leader.
Ghosh is back in Goa, this time as a mother of two who holds both the lock and the key to dark family secrets. “Somebody described me as the go-to Goan girl, it must be some past life thing,” Ghosh joked during an interview. She was relatively unknown when she played a character modelled on the legendary singer Lorna Cordeiro in the Konkani musical Nachom-ia Kumpasar (2015). Ghosh’s performance made it entirely possible to believe that she was of Goan stock rather than a Bengali raised in Gujarat and the United States.
In the Netflix horror-themed series Typewriter, Ghosh plays Jenny, whose mother has died a violent death, whose grandfather wrote a mystery novel that appears to be a book of spells, and whose doppleganger is haunting the corridors of her ancestral home.
The series, directed by Sujoy Ghosh, has a double dose of Ghosh. She is the wife of an architect with his own secrets and the concerned mother of a brat and a bored teenager. She is also the lookalike spirit who has the power to suck the life out of her victims.
Ghosh is a bit too young for the role (like Jenny’s past, Ghosh’s age too is a secret). Yet, it is a measure of Ghosh’s dexterity that it hard to distinguish between the two Jennys. Ghosh plays the role straight, without the hysterics usually associated with the scream queen archetype from horror films. To know which Jenny is in a scene, you need to carefully watch Ghosh’s face, register the slightest change in expression and see the eyes sparkle with evilness and the cheekbones harden with murderous intent.
“It was all in the writing, and I followed the graph and Sujoy’s instructions,” Ghosh told Scroll.in. “The two parts were very different, and I didn’t want it to be obvious. This is this other half of Jenny that is not so pleasant. The role required a lot of internalising. The challenge was to do the reveal just when it was needed.”
Typewriter will be premiered on July 19. Apart from Palomi Ghosh, the cast across the five-episode series includes Sameer Kochhar, Purab Kohli, Harish Khanna, Jisshu Sengupta, and four find-outers who share an obsession for ghosts and mystery.
Among the highlights of Typewriter was the opportunity to work with the child actors Aarna Sharma, Aaryansh Malviya, Milkail Gandhi and Palash Kamble. “I love working with kids – they’re so honest, and you have to be true to them,” Ghosh observed. “We goofed around a lot and were making boomerangs and things all the time.”
Ghosh was cast in the five-episode series in late 2018. She had never met her director before – “I had seen him a few times at events, but I didn’t want to go up to him to say hi and invade his privacy.” She plunged into the shoot right after being cast. “This seems to be the case with all my films,” Ghosh observed.
Ghosh made her screen debut in a small role in the Australian production The Waiting City in 2010. Her big break was in Bardroy Barretto’s Nachom-ia Kumpasar, which examines the contributions of Goan musicians to Konkani pop and Hindi film music through the tragic affair between a musician and a singer. As Dona Pereira, Ghosh perfected the body language of the ingenue who scorches the stage. At one screening, an elderly Goan woman came up to Ghosh with tears in her eyes and wordlessly held the actor’s face in gratitude.
Nachom-ia Kumpasar hasn’t been formally released, and instead continues to be shown at specially organised screenings. “Nachom-ia screenings are my uppers,” Ghosh said. “Whenever I feel that life is blah, I try and attend a screening.”
The musical has been circulated widely on the festival circuit, picking up three National Film Awards (Ghosh won a special mention for her performance). However, the roles didn’t flow in as smoothly as Ghosh might have expected. “I thought I had arrived after the film and with all the reviews and then, like, hello!”
There were, however, phone calls from directors who mattered. Ghosh was cast in Shubhashish Bhutiani’s debut feature Mukti Bhawan in 2016. Ghosh effortlessly plays Sunita, the bubbly daughter of an emotionally repressed government employee who travels to Varanasi to fulfill his father’s wish of dying there. Mukti Bhawan was widely acclaimed upon its release, and ran for several weeks in Japan too.
Ghosh also got a call from Mira Nair for the musical based on her 2001 film Monsoon Wedding. Ghosh was cast in a new part created for the musical adaptation, as the grandmother of the quirky wedding planner PK Dube. Ghosh was also the understudy of the heroine Aditi in the musical, which was first staged in May 2017 at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in California.
The musical invokes Ghosh’s parallel achievement – she is also an accomplished singer. She provided the voice for Kajol’s character in the 2018 film Helicopter Eela, for the track Ruk Ruk Ruk. Ghosh has another web series coming up, the AltBalaji production Mission Over Mars, and the movies Tryst with Destiny and Satellite Shankar, but she is also working on a musical project with an unidentified composer.
“It is easier to have two things,” Ghosh said about her twin talents. “It’s the problem of plenty – of having two things to go to.” She has been going back and forth between things ever since she returned to India in the late 2000s for what was supposed to be a two-month stretch. Ghosh grew up in Vadodara in Gujarat and moved to North Carolina in the United States as a teenager, where she earned an undergraduate degree in mathematics.
“I do hope people will remember that I speak fluent Gujarati too,” Ghosh said. Her progress has been steady and incremental, one role at a time and one finely attuned performance at a time. Until her next release Mission Over Mars in August, there is Jenny, who draws you towards her with her warmth and then chills you with her wickedness.