Betaal — the four-part Netflix unique that has Shah Rukh Khan as an uncredited producer — has been marketed as the primary Indian collection with zombies. Besides they are not precisely zombies. Certain, they like to chunk and switch people to their trigger. However they do not pursue their prey rabidly. As an alternative, Betaal’s undead function on the behest of their chief, who can command them and communicate by way of them. After resurrection, the contaminated keep in mind who they have been and discuss lucidly. Betaal provides an Indian contact to this as effectively, with the undead unable to stroll previous a mixture of turmeric, salt, and ash.
These are welcome updates within the overdone zombie style. Sadly, Betaal would not carry that spirit over to the remainder of the Netflix collection. The writing duo of Patrick Graham (Ghoul) — who has created, co-directed, and a cameo on Betaal — and Suhani Kanwar (Leila) ship a three-hour horror collection that operates in clichés and tropes, which makes Betaal really feel prefer it belongs to the basic style period. Graham and the workforce have talked about introducing Indians to zombies, however frankly, in 2020, there’s no use for that. Even these with a passing data of horror know the way zombies work. However Betaal has zero self-awareness, be it with its plot or characters.
For what it is price, there’s some try at socio-political commentary. In Betaal, tribal villagers are forcefully rehabilitated to make means for a freeway, all within the identify of “improvement”. They’re labelled as Naxal, whereas the politician-builder nexus pays off counter-insurgents to take away them and clear a tunnel. That’s the place the counter-insurgents encounter an undead East Indian Firm regiment.
Via all of it, Betaal touches upon the indifference of the political and center class, the unquestioning, blind loyalty of the troopers, and the greed of the previous colonialists. What Betaal needs to say is that these are the true zombies, who’re feasting on the flesh and blood of the underprivileged, however the message is buried, muddled, and superficial.
Betaal opens with a tribal ritual ceremony on the outskirts of the Nilja village within the coronary heart of India, as they pray to a Lord Betaal. An aged lady seemingly communicates with the idol and has troubling visions, earlier than collapsing to the ground and exclaiming: “Do not open the tunnel.” Lower to staff making ready to clear a tunnel below the Betaal Mountain, below the supervision of Ajit Mudhalvan (Jitendra Joshi, from Sacred Video games). His spouse and daughter Saanvi (Syna Anand, from Mere Pyare Prime Minister) have been pressured to tag alongside for a press photo-op. However because the villagers start to protest, and with a deadline hanging over his head, Ajit calls in a army favour.
That brings in Commandant Tyagi (Suchitra Pillai, from Karkash), the Baaz squad chief of the CIPD (Counter Insurgency Police Division), who asks these sad with their work to “go to Pakistan” throughout her TV appearances. Gladly working for Tyagi is her second-in-command Vikram Sirohi (Viineet Kumar, from Mukkabaaz), who appears to have barely higher morals. On the identical time, Sirohi is obsessive about being “a great soldier”, which implies he does as he is advised. That — staying true to oneself and obeying others — is an not possible stability, and why Sirohi has PTSD from an earlier mission, having seemingly killed a younger woman who was a witness to a bloodbath.
Issues take a troubling flip after the Baaz squad arrives in Nilja village. The villagers with sticks aren’t any match for the CIPD that is armed to the enamel, who raze and burn the village to the bottom within the aftermath. However because the tunnel clear-up resumes and staff head in, issues take an eerie flip — as they need to, for the sake of the narrative. Additional investigation by the CIPD reveals a platoon of undead wearing British India-era apparel with glowing eyes. Upon the recommendation of captured native Puniya (Manjiri Pupala, from Celebration), Sirohi and the remainder head to a close-by deserted British barracks for security. They’re adopted by the undead, who can shoot — the bullets additionally infect — and play drums.
There’s loads of materials right here that lends itself to black comedy, however Betaal is just too self-sincere to recognise any of that. The closest it involves delivering humour is over an hour in, when a CIPD sniper curses the British for stealing India’s evil spirits — which is claimed to be behind their energy — having already stolen the whole lot from the land to sources within the colonial previous.
Betaal additionally throws in jabs about “laborious Brexit” (ill-fitting) or Jallianwala Bagh (pop patriotism), however the frequent drawback is that it is all on the floor. There is no depth to any of it. To make issues worse, the Netflix collection is extra profitable at being unintentionally humorous.
After the CIPD holes up within the British barracks, one in every of them notices that the chief Tyagi’s hair has all of the sudden turned greyish white. The squad medic says “shock” could be behind it, and everybody else casually accepts that as a legitimate motive. Are you kidding me? As you possibly can count on, holding Tyagi alive proves to be the bane of their survival. Sadly, characters — on this case, skilled troopers — behaving stupidly on Betaal turns into extra frequent because the present goes on. In a single scenario, one in every of them casually walks as much as a civilian whom they already know to not belief. Naturally, it leads to demise. That Betaal wants this to maneuver its story ahead is an indication of extraordinarily poor writing. On high of that, it is simply avoidable.
What’s equally annoying are Betaal’s expository troubles. Its motley of characters conveniently spout or uncover info proper when the viewers wants that context. The beginning of the third episode is a protracted monologue that expands on the background of the East India Firm regiment, after a e-book about them is discovered within the deserted barracks. Okay then. Because the second half of Betaal progresses, characters then probability upon the related passages that match the continued storyline and arrange future plot factors.
And one character merely exists to function a story system. The one attention-grabbing character dynamic is the one involving Puniya and a CIPD member, which evolves from a spot of heavy distrust to co-dependence. Disgrace it has no time or house to go anyplace.
A part of the issue is that Betaal unfolds over the course of a single day, which does not afford a lot room for character improvement or character arcs. Besides that is removed from the one drawback. It fails as a style piece, it fails to say something worthwhile, and finally, it fails its proficient forged comprised of Kumar, Pillai, and Aahana Kumra (Lipstick Below My Burkha) amongst others. In trusting those that have not delivered beforehand — Khan’s Purple Chillies was behind the irresponsible travesty that was Bard of Blood, whereas Graham’s Ghoul additionally fell brief in each horror and commentary — Netflix has proven that it isn’t studying any classes from its errors.
Betaal is now streaming in Hindi, English, Tamil, and Telugu on Netflix.