D: Sandip Ray / 105m
Cast: Paran Banerjee, Dwijen Banerjee, Abir Chatterjee, Bhaswar Chatterjee, Biswajit Chakraborty, Saswata Chatterjee, Abanti Mohan Bandyopadhyay
A trio of ghost stories – two by Satyajit Ray, one by Saradindu Bandopadhyay – Jekhane Bhooter Bhoy (roughly translated it means “where there is a fear of ghosts”) opens with a character created by Satyajit Ray, Tarini Khuro (Paran Banerjee), travelling to the home of a friend. There are five children there and once settled with tea, Khuro begins to tell the first of the three stories, Anath Babur Bhoy. On a trip to Raghunathpur, a writer meets Anath Babu (Dwijen Banerjee), a semi-famous ghost hunter on his way to visit the reputedly haunted Halder Bari, a dilapidated mansion on the outskirts of the town. Babu aims to spend the night there and see for himself if the story that no one who spends the night there is alive the next morning.
The second tale, Brown Saheber Bari, concerns a diary that has come into the possession of a bank employee, Ranjan Sengupta (Abir Chatterjee). The diary was written by a man named Brown, and in it there are constant references to someone called Simon. Ranjan is convinced that Simon’s ghost haunts the house where Brown lived, and with his friend Aneek (Bhaswar Chatterjee) and associate Mr Banerjee (Chakraborty), arranges to stay there for the night in the hope of proving his theory.
The final tale, Bhut Bhabishyat, sees a writer, Pratap Sarkar (Saswata Chatterjee), renting a place in Raipur where he aims to write his latest novel. One night he is surprised by a ghost, Nandadulal Nandy (also Paran Banerjee). Initially astonished but unafraid, when the ghost reappears, Sarkar speaks to him, and so discovers a tale of woe that leads him to helping the ghost ensure his family, who are struggling financially, are taken care of.
As a compendium of classic ghost stories, Jekhane Bhooter Bhoy works only occasionally, with the framing device of only minimal interest, and each story lacking any real scares. There’s a reverence to the material that undermines the effectiveness of each tale, and while Ray directs efficiently and elicits good performances from all concerned, the movie fails to make much of an impact. The first tale has an impressive haunted house, the location being creepy all by itself, and the set up is well handled but the payoff is predictable and banal. The second tale takes quite a while to get going, and though the cast in this segment do their best to “sell” the supernatural elements, the twist in the tale is badly executed and skirts dangerously close to being unintentionally humorous. Humour, though, is essential to the third tale, as the machinations of Nandy are played deliberately for laughs, and of the three stories, this is the most successful. That said, it sits uneasily against the other stories, played as they are for their scare factors, and while the playing by both Saswata Chatterjee and Paran Banerjee is a delight to watch, it’s this change in direction that undercuts the (minor) power of the two previous segments.
Visually, the movie isn’t all that impressive either. It’s a bit murky at times, and while the lighting of the first two tales is shadowy in relation to the mood and content of the stories, it serves only to make things look unnecessarily gloomy. A spooky atmosphere is supplied only in the first tale (courtesy of the dilapidated mansion and its locale), while any sense of unease is diminished due to a distancing from the material that doesn’t help the viewer get involved in what’s happening on screen. It’s almost as if Ray was loathe to try anything new with the material. As a result it’s hard to feel anything other than a kind of creeping lassitude.
Rating: 5/10 – an overly safe retelling of three classic Indian ghost stories, bolstered by good performances but ultimately falling short in its ambition; worth a look to see how it’s done elsewhere, just don’t expect anything too compelling, or scary.