Director Zoya Akhtar says she was clear about one thing when she started working on "Ghost Stories": she wouldn't rely on conventional horror tropes and would instead use the genre to chronicle fundamental fears that haunt people. Zoya's short features Janhvi Kapoor as a home nurse tasked with taking care of an elderly woman, played by veteran actor Surekha Sikri.
The filmmaker said she was interested in making her segment thematic, touching upon some of her own fears. "It is about the fear, the horrors of ageing, fear of abandonment and death. Any story — that of a ghost, zombie or paranormal (element) — the context it operates from, fears it taps into, are basic human fears.
"If they didn't, you would not get scared. It has to connect with you to scare you. You have to be clear on what that is," Zoya told PTI in an interview.
The "Gully Boy" director found her story in the premise by writer Ensia Mirza.
"I just wanted to do a story I relate to, which has a deeper layer than just a surface-level scream fest. I met many people but Ensia Mirza seemed to understand what I was looking for immediately.
"She got me this idea of a nurse and an old woman in need of palliative care. I loved the premise, the set-up. I want people to feel more than just the scares," she added.
Zoya said the casting of Janhvi and Surekha — and the obvious age gap they share — was by design. "Youth is wasted on the young, as the saying goes, and that is part of it... Once you see the film you will understand. Which is why when there is a woman like that, the character of Janhvi grows up."
The director said, right from the scripting stage, she knew she wanted Surekha and Vijay Varma, who earlier collaborated with her in "Gully Boy", to be a part of her short. "I have been wanting to work with Surekha mam for a very long time. We almost got that opportunity on 'Gully Boy' but her 'Badhaai Ho' dates were clashing. I can't even say it was a mistake because she won a National Award! I have been seeing her work ever since I was a casting director. What she has done here, is fabulous," Zoya said.
The Netflix horror anthology will stream from January 1.