“Ghost of the Golden Groves” follows the plights of two unrelated travelers into the remote forest area in the ‘Shonajhuri’ forest area. A region not yet developed and rife with superstition, which hangs over the locals, making them reluctant to include outsiders in a world they struggle to explain themselves.
The first segment concerns a traveling developer, tasked to outline a road system in the remote area. However, with the villagers being hostile to his work, he soon finds himself an unwilling participant in a nightly festival where the villagers are haunted by ghostly visions of themselves. The second segment follows an out of work cook, who is soon welcomed into the home of an elderly, eccentric millionaire. Although he offers the cook an ideal existence, bizarre dreams soon begin to haunt the cook, pushing him into a frenzied confusion.
“Ghosts of the Golden Groves”is split into two parts by interconnecting series and mashes up the genres of horror, science fiction, and drama, into a story that feels unique in its culture and time frame. The ability to transition from the mundane to the surreal is disorienting in the most ideal way. The production allows itself to experiment with audio and visuals, while keeping it grounded in, what I would relate the film closest to, the genre of “Folk Horror”. All the film’s elements, especially when pulled off to great success, make it hard to really pin it under one label, resulting in an experience that will feel unique to even the most hardened cinephiles.
The visuals are strong throughout the production, shot mostly in black and white, in a crisp and clear filter, with only a few murky moments. This choice really compliments the feel of the production and makes sure that the viewers can see the details in the most visually stunning moments. There is also limited use of colour, but it punctuates at the right moments. The use of black and white and the switch to colour does not feel like a gimmick, rather an understanding of how to best represent the narrative. Throughout the production, there are many moments that will draw in viewers, with many sequences that can act as a visual showcase. Thankfully, these moments are presented at a pace that allows for them to be properly appreciated, and at no point does the production become bogged down or over stimulating.
The film’s soundtrack and sound design does vary greatly, mixing traditional and electronic music. Thankfully, the eclectic use of sound is utilized to maximum effect, particularly boosting the more experimental aspects of the production. To note a particular scene, there is a dream sequence where the lead in the second segment finds himself in a dreamlike rave, with men in body suits acting chaotically. The sudden inclusions of dance music marked with the bizarre visuals will draw viewers into the hauntingly strange world that is “Ghost of the Golden Grove”. To give praise to the production, there are many moments to point to where the sound and visuals mingle exquisitely.
The film’s script and performances, although solid, become a bit more difficult to critique. Although the narrative acts as an experimentation within visuals, the script plays out more like a folk tale from another era. Nevertheless, everything does blend well together, the visuals seem to rest more at the forefront, and will leave a stronger impact on most viewers. The performances fall into similar classification, of being serviceable to the better aspects of the production, but not really excelling in their own.
“Ghost of the Golden Groves” really caught me by surprise, within my decades long obsession with film, I have not really seen anything quite like it. There are definitely elements to it that feel familiar, and it is not to say that the filmmakers created something wholly original, but the mix of genres and ideas through the guise of a folk tales was something unique for me. I will admit, my knowledge of experimental Indian film is practically non-existent. However, after seeing the production, it piques my interest in finding film from the region within similar tone and themes, which exists as one of the highest praise I can give to any production.
Within my praise, I don’t necessarily want to give the impression that this is a “perfect film”, with one major issue existing in the pacing of the second segment. The shift from the second to later half is a bit of an unwelcome change of pace, as the first segment has more notable content in a shorter duration. Also, although the visuals are strong, it is hard to say they match up against other contemporary filmmakers who excel in this field. Throughout the movie, there was something slightly off with the tone that kept it from becoming something to exemplify when discussing experimentation within visual presentation. However, it did leave a strong enough of an impression that I would implore others to visit the otherworldly folk tales crafted by Aniket Dutta and Roshni Sen. I am really excited to see what the future holds for this duo.