Typewriter cast: Palomi Ghosh, Purab Kohli, Kanwaljeet, Aarna Sharma and Sahil Kochar
Typewriter director: Sujoy Ghosh
Typewriter rating: Two and a half stars
If you wanted a Cliff Notes version of everything fantastical and horrific that has captured popular culture through the ages, then Typewriter, the latest offering from Netflix, is your answer. But as those of us who have used Cliff Notes would know, we can only rely on them for scraping through an exam, nothing more. Typewriter, which is being dubbed as India’s answer to Stranger Things — the hit international horror show — does follow a similar template, but sadly is not able to replicate the formula successfully. Directed by Sujoy Ghosh, who gave us the impeccable edge-of-your seat thriller Kahaani, Typewriter and its premise was very much in his wheelhouse. But Typewriter is no Kahaani.
The story begins in the mid-eighties, at the ominous Bardez Villa, in lush Goa, which has seen some mysterious, unexplained occurrences happening in its rambling premises. Madhav Mathews (Kanwaljeet), a successful ghost story writer, who wrote Ghost of Sultanpore on a Remington typewriter, dies of a heart attack when he sees a doppelganger ghost of his adolescent granddaughter, Jenny. We then shift to present day, and Jenny is grown up and has returned to live at Bardez Villa with her husband and two kids. All these new happenings are being observed by a motley crew of three kids and a dog, who have fashioned themselves as a local ‘ghost club’, and their sole interest is to venture into the haunted villa. Headed by Sameera, all of them have grown up reading Mathews’ book and believe it to be true. Things start to unravel when the old Remington typewriter resurfaces and bodies start dropping. The ghost club, which has major throwback feels to The Famous Five series by Enid Blyton, take on the mission to capture the ghost. Their search takes them to a surly man who lives on a boat and has a wooden leg, there is a trip to a carnival to seek the help of a ‘spirit doctor’ and they stumble on the legend of Fakeer, a shape-shifting, supernatural entity who apparently was last seen at the Villa and was central to the plot of Ghosts of Sultanpur. Throw in a well-intentioned police officer Ravi Anand (Purab Kohli), who happens to the father of founder of the ghost club, Sameera.
For a country seeped in folklore that has survived and passed down orally for centuries, we don’t do horror well. We might have progressed from the ‘woman-in-a-white-saree-holding-a-candle’ trope, but we are nowhere close to having a Stranger Things or even a Sixth Sense of our own, and Typewriter just reiterates this point. The first episode starts off brilliantly and we have numerous moments where your heart skips a beat, but by the fifth episode we are just crossing off themes and motifs from a whiteboard. Using a self-writing typewriter, with the clickity-clack of the keys echoing in a house, was a brilliant premise — and a welcome change from the tinkle of anklets and creaking floorboards and doors that have dominated the soundscape of Indian horror — but it’s not explored enough. The show turns into a meandering exercise, with every possible ghost reference in play — blood money, ghosts trapped between planes, ghosts that are actually good ghosts etc, nothing that we haven’t seen, heard or interpreted before. Horror has always been about ‘show, don’t tell’, but many times obvious statements and dialogues took away the attention from the screen. The end is quite predictable and the series could have done with some crisp editing and shortened its 50 minute per episode length. It’s surprising that while the show has many children, who are central to the narrative, yet it doesn’t shy away from showing blood and gore. Additionally, with a 16+ rating, it has alienated that demography. It’s strange that in these times of tiger and helicopter parenting, we see the kids gallivanting across Goa, confiding in strange men, witnessing murders and attending funerals.
Watch if you are missing Goa and your fifth recurring plan to visit it with your friends this year alone has collapsed.