The 2013 anthology film Bombay Talkies brought together Anurag Kashyap, Karan Johar, Zoya Akhtar and Dibakar Banerjee for four short films centered around Mumbai and its filmmaking traditions. The directors joined hands for another anthology film, Netflix’s Lust Stories, in 2017. Ghost Stories, which will be out on January 1, features the filmmakers dabbling in the horror genre.

“When the four of us get together, we basically gossip and giggle,” Dibakar Banerjee told about the origin of Ghost Stories. “After one such gossiping and giggling session, Karan Johar suggested the idea of making horror films because he himself is very scared by them. Though Karan regretted it later, we all jumped at the idea.”

The trailer offers glimpses of the four installments. Banerjee’s contribution appears to be about a near-empty town in which a girl informs a visitor that “they” have eaten her father. The cast includes Sukant Goel and Gulshan Devaiah.

Banerjee hasn’t had a release since 2015’s Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!. In an interview, the maker of the National Film Award winning Khosla Ka Ghosla (2006) and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008), spoke about his Ghost Stories film and his upcoming features, which includes Sandeep aur Pinky Faraar.

What is your ‘Ghost Stories’ entry about?
It’s about a man who walks into a town and finds only two people. He soon starts learning about the new rules of surviving, which he doesn’t believe at first, but he slowly figures them out. My film is about survival, about not getting extinct, the fear of being snuffed out. My film is also about eating and what we love to eat.

Ghost Stories (2019).

How do you approach a genre like horror?
I approached the film thinking my job is to make a scary film. An interesting book I read in the last 10 years is The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror. There, not all stories are about ghosts or ghouls, but about people in scary situations against people.

I began thinking why people consume horrible narratives. I realised fear is a necessary survival equipment. The hominid or earliest man wouldn’t survive if he wasn’t afraid. If you don’t have fear, you walk into situations where you can lose life.

So stories of fear, of which ghost stories are just one kind, is a way of reinforcing a way to keep fear alive through narrative. Horror helps us get in touch with our primitive selves. That’s what got me charged about my story – taking the audience to a primitive kind of society and existence.

Horror is a new genre for you. How was the experience?
Writing the story is easy. It has to have a beginning, middle and end. But certain kind of horror stories are bloody hard to make technically. You have to invent the whole universe and figure out what’s really happening in it. Before getting into the film, you have to imagine the unthinkable as really, really happening. My films are dependent on detail and simulation of so-called reality.

The reality within the framework of the film has to be convincing. To construct that reality was absolutely unreal.

A bunch of internationally acclaimed horror films in the last decade have been about humans frightening humans or survival against malevolent forces, such as ‘Get Out’, ‘Us’, ‘Hereditary’, ‘Midsommar’, ‘It Comes At Night’, ‘Green Room’, and ‘A Quiet Place’. Is there a connection?
The fear of the other has intensified in the last 12-13 years, which have exposed us finally to the ravages unchecked capitalism can bring to the world. It has led to the decimation of the climate, the marginalisation of the poor, and has increased income inequality between the richest and the poorest. When you see yourself at the bottom of the pile, and you are constantly exposed to images of the rich and their riches, you start seeing the whole world as your enemy.

Then, a demagogue comes along and says, listen I can make everything alright, clear your enemies, make your life better. The demagogue revitalises all your fears and hate, because he knows this is the only way to be the centre of your attention.

The demagogue has more money from big business than anyone else trying to oppose him and show a different path. When the moneyed collude for profits, they damage most of the earth’s environment for profit, which fuels the demagogue’s campaign and outreach. To sustain that, the demagogue creates a situation where he makes people believe that anyone not them is out to get them.

This creates identity and nativist politcs. The other is created. The whole attempt to decimate and finish off the other begins. The easiest way to find the other and destroy it is to find who’s the least in number. While there’s blood on the streets, the rich laugh all the way to the bank. These fears are being confronted in films, as I have in my film in Ghost Stories.

Dibakar Banerjee.

You were planning to film TED Klein’s short story ‘Nadelman’s God’, in which an advertising copywriter’s novel is adapted as an heavy metal song, which leads to the creation of a demon.
There are so many other projects lined up. After Byomkesh, Sandeep aur Pinky Faraar took up two-three years of my time. Then, I had Ghost Stories, and now there’s Freedom on my plate. I may return to Nadelman’s God after that. I even have an Indian name ready for the film, which I won’t reveal now.

‘Sandeep aur Pinky Faraar’ hasn’t yet been released. Meanwhile ‘Freedom’, according to a Netflix press release, is about “an Indian family interwoven with the personal, ideological and sexual history of India and how desire plays a common role in each”.
I am not sure when Sandeep aur Pinky Faraar will be out, but I must say Parineeti Chopra and Arjun Kapoor have given the best performances of their lives in this film.

I can’t talk about Freedom now. We are beginning shooting next month. Hopefully, the 15-16 hours of the work the team is putting in will come to fruition soon.

Also read:

Dibakar Banerjee: ‘When the times are sensitive, you have to bring out the touchy issues’