Typewriter review: Sujoy Ghosh weaves a multifaceted tale of horror and human relationships in Netflix debut
Even if Typewriter fails to best Sujoy Ghosh's Kahaani, the director's maiden venture into the horror genre has been more than a happy welcome.
Netflix has undoubtedly raised the bar for horror narratives with The Haunting of Hill House last year, its psycho-thriller elements deeply enmeshed within the plot to make viewers sufficiently petrified. But one of the main reasons Mike Flanagan's series managed to create an impact like never before was because the creator played with the notion of fearing the idea of fear.
With Sujoy Ghosh's Typewriter, the streaming giant attempts at a more children-friendly version of a similar concept. A five-episode mini-series, co-written by Sujoy and Suresh Nair, Typewriter is deliciously unpleasant and gripping, with a generous amount of gore (definitely abides by the standards of Indian horror productions).
Ghosh pays obeisance to the years of Famous Five and Secret Seven adventures, where a motley group of children steps up to solve murder and other mysteries, becoming the unassuming neighbourhood heroes. So do our young protagonists in Typewriter. Sameera/Sam (Aarna Sharma), Gablu (Mikail Gandhi), and Bunty (Palash Kamble), with their beloved pet Buddy, are passionate but clueless members of a Ghost Club, only too enthusiastic to capture spirits. But Bardez in Goa hardly makes for a notorious environment till the town's prodigal daughter Jenny Fernandes (Palomi Ghosh) returns to her beautiful (and haunted, duh) mansion Bardez Villa, after mysteriously and abruptly leaving her childhood home 35 years ago.
Sujoy weaves a rich multi-genre tale with Agatha Christie-esque features, classical Goth elements, Biblical 'blood moon' predictions, black magic, and an eerie doppelganger.
The Kahaani director infuses each character with quirks — the nearly-deaf doctor who performs postmortems on the victims; the loving-yet-helpless single father, police officer Ravi Anand (Purab Kohli); the feisty Sam and a comparatively sedate Jenny with her harrowing alter ego are the best of the lot. Ghosh's perfectly honed pen keenly generates each character. The loving treatment he bestows on each person is commendable. He minutely builds their back-stories to justify the characters' present absurdities and make them seem like understandable hiccups. What more could explain Sam's hurried encounter with Jenny, merely a day after the child witnesses a grotesque murder? Sameera's deep sense of loss after her mother's demise pushes the precocious girl to take on what she considers an other-worldly being.
A master at subtleties, Sujoy plunges into building onscreen relationships. The father-daughter duo, Ravi and Sam, often bicker about life. Ravi complains Sam is too fearless for her own good; she rebels but judiciously. Ravi is also enamoured by Jenny, mostly as she is the infamous heir to the haunted house, but also because he craves companionship.
The children often bunk school to decode Jenny's grandfather's bestselling book The Ghost of Sultanpore as and when the murders occur. Their favourite hideout, however, is the dilapidated boat-house belonging to Moses, a cantankerous drunkard who turns out to be a key element in the mystery. From enemies to friends, Ghosh devotes time to each character and makes Typewriter way more than just a story about a ghost living in a cursed mansion. Case in point: The growth of Sam and Moses' relationship from that of harsh threats to one of trust and love comes in with Sujoy's depiction of both their vulnerabilities. While one is bound to protect a cursed figurine, the other prances about energetically in a bid to mask her insecurities. With such welcome details, it seems like Sujoy is in no hurry to reach the show's climax, almost enjoying brewing the narrative mix with human oddities and interpersonal rapport.
In an otherwise perfect casting then, Jisshu Sengupta's Amit Roy is probably the weakest link. It is unfortunate since his character bears maximum responsibility of bringing in the 'evil' in the web series. His bespectacled, puffy face with neatly parted hair and inconspicuous movements are reminiscent of Kahaani's Bob Biswas. But in an exclusive interview with Firstpost, Sengupta denied any such likeness. A brilliant-yet-shy mathematics teacher by day, Amit treads more dangerous territories at night. Amit thus is an important kingpin in Sujoy's narrative. But sadly, Sengupta's affected expressions and a Bengali-heavy Hindi accent pull down his performance.
The production design department (Kaushik Das, Subrata Barik, and Suresh Selvarajan) for Typewriter is undeniably one of the high points of the show. Though Bardez Villa looks eerily similar to the opulent Hill House manor, Ghosh's set manages to hold its own charm. High teak-wood beds then become a plot driver, especially in a bone-chilling scene between a young Jenny and her grandfather Madhav (Kanwaljit Singh); broad teak-wood bookshelves, ornate wooden tables, and antique staircases play their small but significant part in Sujoy's world of horror.
The 53-year-old filmmaker has always been a storyteller of places along with his characters, and this horror series is no exception. In the interview, Sujoy mentions how Goa was a brand new territory for him and thus, he could join his audiences through his lens in a journey of unraveling the mysteries of the notorious Remington Rand typewriter. Dirty ditches, old retro bars, Victorian churches, quaint cafes — Gairik Sarkar's brilliant camera rummages through each Goan alley, as the story shifts between present-day to the 1950s. This detailed treatment is also reminiscent of Enid Blyton's intricate descriptions of abandoned coves and caves, which then became the canvas for her mystery adventures.
Typewriter may not be as deeply disconcerting as The Haunting of Hill House, but it definitely builds a deeper connect with its audiences. Sujoy, true to his word, enters the story in the capacity of both a maker and viewer, uplifting the relatability quotient of the narrative. An environment which produced embarrassing concoctions like Aahat and Ssshhhh...Koi Hai, seems to have come a long way with a mature, deep and more human depictions of the paranormal. Even if Typewriter fails to best Kahaani, the director's maiden venture into the horror genre has been more than a happy welcome.
Typewriter streams on Netflix from 19 July.
(All images are taken from YouTube)
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