Zoya Akhtar: Even my ghost story is one of hope
A conversation with the filmmaker, Janhvi Kapoor and Vijay Varma, who discuss their latest collaboration, the Netflix release, Ghost Stories
Zoya Akhtar's segment in the Netflix horror anthology Ghost Stories is the only story where the fear is drawn from relatable scares like ageing, abandonment and loneliness, rather than of supernatural origin. She says that was the plan since day one. "I wanted a story that thematically taps into the deepest fears of humans. I believe these scare people more than paranormal ones." Zoya adds that her prime motive was to scare those who don't believe in ghosts. "There are certain fears that grew in us as we get old, the ones that become part of our lives. These can make even the bold ones who have zero belief in ghosts go weak at the knees. When I pitched this idea to writer Ensia Mirza, she gave me this beautiful story of an aged woman and a young nurse."
Any upcoming actor, in the initial phase of carving their image on the audience's mind, would hesitate before working on a horror film, and one in which she has to play a lower middle-class nurse. Janhvi Kapoor, however, says she would have done anything to be in this film, as it is directed by Zoya. "It's an opportunity nobody would pass on. Playing a role that has no makeup made me feel confident and it was liberating as an actor." She goes on to reveal that she learnt a new accent to play Sameera. "Zoya asked me to experiment with a unique accent for the role. I took it seriously and began taking references from my house help. I made her say the dialogues and picked up the accent from her. Zoya also gave me a clear backstory of all the characters, and so, getting into the skin of the role wasn't tough for me."
Vijay Varma, who had earlier worked in the horror-comedy, Gang of Ghosts, shares that it was a completely different experience to work in a serious story this time around. "I found the script to be profoundly haunting and it had a meaty role for me. I couldn't have asked for more. My role hardly has anything to do with the supernatural part, so all I had to do was get myself into the psychology of the character." He also added that working with his longtime friend Janhvi was an interesting experience. "Janhvi and I have been friends for a long time, and working with her was delightful. I was happy to see her give her fullest for the film."
Zoya's films have typically revolved around hope and positivity. Directing a horror film should have seemed quite different then. But she denies this. "I see even this story as one of hope. I believe that the audience who travel with Janhvi's Sameera will come out stronger. Regardless of the genre of the film I make, I always want the audience to have an emotional connect with my work."