Betaal review: Where even zombies get a raw deal
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that trying to strike a deal with a Zombie in the midst of a blood and gore fest, isn't exactly going to win you any Brownie points. But Betaal, the new zombie series, that debuted on Netflix on Sunday, directed by Patrick Graham (Ghoul) and Nikhil Mahajan and most significantly produced by Shah Rukh Khan's Red Chillies Entertainment, is not content with stooping to these levels of absurdity.
Granted zombie thrillers have as much depth as the layers of makeup under which the undeads have to function. But the genre usually serves as a vehicle to reflect some socio-political agenda, which the makers of Betaal, sadly fail to capitalise on.
Themes of corruption, colonialism and capitalism are all thrown around rather superficially but nothing sticks at the end of it all and we come away with a feeling of having wasted a precious night watching this rather lame take on zombies.
The premise itself, though filled with potential, is pretty flimsy - a corrupt head of a construction company, Ajay Mudhalvan (Jitendra Joshi) enlists the services of an elite commando group, CIPD (Counter Insurgency Police Department), the Baaz Squad, led by the steely Commandant Tyagi (a suitably impressive Suchitra Pillai) to forcefully evacuate a village inhabited by superstitious tribals. The uneducated villagers are seen as standing in the way of progress by refusing to permit a highway to be constructed through an old British era tunnel they are guarding.
What takes the viewers mere seconds to grasp takes the supposedly super smart and elite squad members nearly four episodes to get into their heads. That they were not fighting against insurgents but innocent villagers who were protecting the nation from an unholy nexus between a power hungry British Colonel from pre-independence era and a son-of-the-soil Betaal.
When Tyagi's second-in-command, Vikram Sirohi (Vineet Kumar Singh) and his team unleash the undead from the tunnel, the humans are forced to seek refuge in a deserted British Barracks where they inevitably turn on each other.
To stamp the originality of the series and perhaps to distinguish it from its Hollywood counterparts, the only line of defense from the marauding members of the battalion led by the evil Colonel is a mixture of salt, turmeric and ashes.
Betaal not only treats it subject matter rather flippantly, it does great disservice to the audience's intellect by having the same point shoved down their throats repeatedly.
Instances of pop patriotism are plenty like the references to Bhagat Singh and Jallianwala Bagh and a distasteful comment on Brexit that sadly reflects a colonial hangover.
Thankfully the women characters are treated with more deference than the males for a change. So you have Baaz Squad member Ahluwalia (Aahana Kumra who stands out with her no-nonsense act) Tyagi, whose hard nosed act continues even after her hair turns white (due to "shock" we are told at least twice within seconds) and Saanvi (a mildly irritating Syna Anand) whose presence seems rather superfluous until she suddenly turns central to the plot. Our favourite is Punia (Manjiri Pupala), the beedi smoking, strong willed villager who we definitely want on our side if we are to go battling zombies who have woken up after 160 years of being buried in a tunnel.
Betaal is a story that could easily have been done with in two episodes. Stretching it into 4 is probably one among the horrors viewers have to endure. To be fair there are some extremely spooky scenes specially if you are a fan of the genre but in the end the story line is so absurd that it doesn't make a difference.
One thing we can guarantee is that your hair isn't going to turn white upon watching this one. There's hardly any shock value unless you get your thrills from feasting your eyes on zombies crawl on ceilings or march around at the beck and call of their commander with hardly a proper thread to hold it all together.
Betaal surely deserved a better vehicle to showcase his story.
Director: Patrick Graham, Nikhil Mahajan
Cast: Vineet Kumar Singh, Aahana Kumar, Suchitra Pillai, Jitendra Joshi, Syna Anand, Manjiri Pupala
Rating: 2 out of 5