Betaal — the four-part Netflix unique that has Shah Rukh Khan as an uncredited producer — has been marketed as the primary Indian sequence with zombies. Except they are not precisely zombies. Sure, they like to chunk and switch people to their trigger. But they do not pursue their prey rabidly. Instead, Betaal’s undead function on the behest of their chief, who can command them and converse via them. After resurrection, the contaminated keep in mind who they had been and speak lucidly. Betaal provides an Indian contact to this as effectively, with the undead unable to stroll previous a mix of turmeric, salt, and ash.
Those are welcome updates within the overdone zombie style. Unfortunately, Betaal would not carry that spirit over to the remainder of the Netflix sequence. 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 sequence that operates in clichés and tropes, which makes Betaal really feel prefer it belongs to the classic genre era. Graham and the group 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. But Betaal has zero self-awareness, be it with its plot or characters.
For what it is value, there’s some try at socio-political commentary. In Betaal, tribal villagers are forcefully rehabilitated to make method for a freeway, all within the identify of “development”. They are labelled as Naxal, whereas the politician-builder nexus pays off counter-insurgents to take away them and clear a tunnel. That is the place the counter-insurgents encounter an undead East Indian Company regiment.
Through 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: “Don’t open the tunnel.” Cut to staff making ready to clear a tunnel underneath the Betaal Mountain, underneath the supervision of Ajit Mudhalvan (Jitendra Joshi, from Sacred Games). His spouse and daughter Saanvi (Syna Anand, from Mere Pyare Prime Minister) have been pressured to tag alongside for a press photo-op. But because the villagers start to protest, and with a deadline hanging over his head, Ajit calls in a navy favour.
That brings in Commandant Tyagi (Suchitra Pillai, from Karkash), the Baaz squad chief of the CIPD (Counter Insurgency Police Department), 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. At the identical time, Sirohi is obsessive about being “a good 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.
Things take a troubling flip after the Baaz squad arrives in Nilja village. The villagers with sticks are not any match for the CIPD that is armed to the tooth, who raze and burn the village to the bottom within the aftermath. But because the tunnel clear-up resumes and staff head in, issues take an eerie flip — as they have to, for the sake of the narrative. Further 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 Party), Sirohi and the remaining head to a close-by deserted British barracks for security. They are 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 simply 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 alleged to be behind their energy — having already stolen every thing from the land to assets within the colonial previous.
Betaal additionally throws in jabs about “hard Brexit” (ill-fitting) or Jallianwala Bagh (pop patriotism), however the widespread downside is that it is all on the floor. There’s no depth to any of it. To make issues worse, the Netflix sequence 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 abruptly turned greyish white. The squad medic says “shock” is likely to be behind it, and everybody else casually accepts that as a legitimate motive. Are you kidding me? As you possibly can anticipate, conserving Tyagi alive proves to be the bane of their survival. Unfortunately, characters — on this case, educated troopers — behaving stupidly on Betaal turns into extra widespread because the present goes on. In one scenario, one in every of them casually walks as much as a civilian whom they already know to not belief. Naturally, it leads to dying. That Betaal wants this to maneuver its story ahead is an indication of extraordinarily poor writing. On prime 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 begin of the third episode is an extended monologue that expands on the background of the East India Company regiment, after a guide about them is discovered within the deserted barracks. Okay then. As 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 solely fascinating character dynamic is the one involving Puniya and a CIPD member, which evolves from a spot of heavy distrust to co-dependence. Shame it has no time or house to go wherever.
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. Except that is removed from the one downside. It fails as a style piece, it fails to say something worthwhile, and in the end, it fails its proficient solid comprised of Kumar, Pillai, and Aahana Kumra (Lipstick Under My Burkha) amongst others. In trusting those that have not delivered beforehand — Khan’s Red Chillies was behind the irresponsible travesty that was Bard of Blood, whereas Graham’s Ghoul additionally fell quick 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.