Director: Sujoy Ghosh
Cast: Palomi Ghosh, Purab Kohli, Aarna Sharma, Mikail Gandhi, Palash Kamble, Aaryansh Malviya, Jisshu Sengupta, Sameer Kochhar, Harish Khanna
Streaming on: Netflix
The Night of the Blood Moon. The Soul Collector. The Resurrection of the Fakeer. The Ghost of Sultanpore. The Good Head Bar. The Serial-killing Mathematics Teacher. The One-Legged Man and his Houseboat. The Book That Wrote Itself. There’s a lot of kooky folklore-building in Sujoy Ghosh’s five-episode Netflix original. Given the presence of kids (and dog) in the series, any of the above options – from phrases to character descriptions – might have worked as a potent title. The simple theme adds to the Enid-Blyton-ness: A family moves into a haunted house, school friends form a ghost club, locals mysteriously die, old secrets are unlocked.
Yet, I believe that “Typewriter” – a device that radiates the oldness of words and wordsmiths – lends the story a distinct sense of adulthood. Because the truth is that, even though the children may occasionally turn Typewriter into a kooky ghost story, much of its horror is spooky and grown-up. Much of its tragedy is parenthood. Much of its form is revenge. Much of its vibe is that of a murder…in a dollhouse.
There might have been the temptation to make something psychological (The Haunting of Hill House), gothic (Crimson Peak, every Tim Burton movie) or even sci-fi (Stranger Things). But Ghosh largely resists childlike wonder and magic realism in its styling; the campy interiors (villa, police station, bar, boat, church) and mood-lighting aside, even the sound cues and background score consciously lack a sense of playfulness. Because Typewriter, despite a PG-13 outlook and several pop culture nods, is not about ghost-busting kids; it is essentially about adults who are struggling to believe in the world of kids. About men and women trapped somewhere between fact and fiction. A narcissistic children’s ghost-story author (Kanwaljit Singh) who himself assures his little granddaughter that “bhoot is jhoot”.
Because Typewriter, despite a PG-13 outlook and several pop culture nods, is not about ghost-busting kids; it is essentially about adults who are struggling to believe in the world of kids.
The grown-up girl, Jenny (a vivid Palomi Ghosh), who moves back from Mumbai into the haunted villa with her husband and kids, with no memory of her grandfather’s strange death. The local cop, Ravi (a solid Purab Kohli), whose soft corner for Jenny prevents him from connecting a string of gory deaths (hearts are squeezed dry) to her return; Ravi, the single father, who doesn’t take his daughter Sam’s (Aarna Sharma) ghost-hunting seriously because he thinks she is merely looking for a way to meet her dead mother again. Doctor Spirit, the talk-show celebrity who scoffs at kids that believe in his theories. Moses, a wooden-legged loner who has seen things in the past that have challenged his preconceived notions about the supernatural. And Amit Roy (Jisshu Sengupta), a sinister Bob-Biswas-style everyman whose sole purpose for the first three episodes is to bump off Goans so that we are convinced that he – and not some paranormal force – is the real danger of the story.
You can sense Ghosh having fun with the setting – a fictitious Konkani town named Bardez – because of how Goa’s sparse fields and snaking roads naturally resemble old-school Bollywood’s secluded Film City locations. All that’s missing is a lone temple on a hill. This is no Kolkata (Kahaani) or Scotland (Badla), but the inherent stageyness of these spaces actually inform the show’s fantasy-fable narrative. Which is ironic, because apart from Sam, all the other kids (including the dog unfortunately) are incidental to the plot. Sam’s equation with Jenny matters, which is why hers is the only domestic arc somewhat fleshed out on a human level. She belongs as a troublemaker, because she has the history to validate her restlessness. The others mostly exist as expository devices who, through unimaginative playground conversations and ghost-club meetings, reveal the rules and technicalities of Bardez’s urban legends. Their juvenile adventures – like the overstretched ‘Operation School Bell’ and climactic ‘Operation School Bag’ missions – come across as unnecessary Cartoon Network fillers that dilute the empathetic tone of Sam’s journey.
You can sense Ghosh having fun with the setting – a fictitious Konkani town named Bardez – because of how Goa’s sparse fields and snaking roads naturally resemble old-school Bollywood’s secluded Film City locations. All that’s missing is a lone temple on a hill.
The show could have afforded more time developing Ravi’s personality or Jenny’s investigations, or even her husband’s murky dealings, if not for the children. (I don’t mean to sound like the oldie who wants kids banned from cinemas and airplanes, but that’s how it is). I also suspect the little critters exist to pass off a bit of Typewriter’s writing (get it?) and characters as deliberately loopy. Like a catholic bar owner, a frightened nanny, a sarcastic sub-inspector, a half-deaf forensic doctor. Or some basic plot points: A cop who captures a criminal sees with his own eyes the other-worldly power of the man, but still chuckles like a cynic at the prospect of him rising from the dead. Or to compensate for the fact that the creepiness of Jenny’s doppelganger, the visual shock of the shape-shifting ghost, starts wearing off sooner than later. The thinking: Everything goes in a kiddie show, some goofiness won’t kill anyone. Spirits aren’t logical, why should stories about them be?
But despite these susegad-like contrivances, there’s enough to suggest that perhaps the next season will not pretend to be entirely age-accessible. There’s enough about Sam and her gang to suggest that the shadowy Fakeer isn’t a Scooby-Dooby-Doo deal. There’s enough about Bardez that can go from solemn comic panel to dark graphic novel. Maybe the Ghost of Sultanpore might return to declare that the best-selling book about him was “dumbed down” to appeal to young masala enthusiasts. Maybe he will demand an edgier rewrite. Maybe more metaphors will write themselves. For instance, trust a fine Bengali storyteller to locate fear in a typewriter.