Netflix Web Series: Betaal
Director: Peter Graham and Nikhil Mahajan
Cast: Viineet Kumar, Aahana Kumra, Suchitra Pillai
Stars: 1.5 out of 5
‘Betaal’, the new zombie horror web series that dropped on Netflix this Eid, wasn’t scary, but there was a spine-chilling twist towards the end. The wobbly series ends on a strong possibility that there could be a second season in the works. Ok, now you’ve scared us.
Watching those long-winded four episodes in its first season was mind-numbingly boring and soul-crushing, but do the viewers need to be subjected to another chapter of the same gig that attempts to unite Indian folklore and blood-thirsty zombies?
Be warned that you are in the danger of being killed by sheer boredom rather than those flesh eating zombies with red eyes and questionable fashion choices.
‘Betaal’, starring a dependable clutch of actors like Viineet Kumar, Aahana Kumra and Suchitra Pillai, is a dark-but-dull tale of a bunch of army officers who are on call to kill innocent villagers resisting the building of a tunnel in a cursed mountain.
The tribals, who resist the building of the tunnel and highway, represent those resisting progress and development. They are shot down indiscriminately by a bunch of army officers despite being warned of fatal repercussions by a menacing matriarch if they open the tunnel.
Like those simple villagers predicted, an army of flesh-eating zombies rise from the dead led by an evil British colonel Lynedoch. Wrapped in soiled and red East India Company uniforms, these zombies — with zero personality — go on a killing rampage and the army officers hole up desperately to escape their wrath.
The premise may have sounded promising on paper, but this production by Shah Rukh Khan's Red Chillies Entertainment fails spectacularly to translate director Peter Graham’s grand, grotesque vision into a riveting watch. Even though our torture ends with four episodes, the series is disjointed and messy. Being invested, forget being spooked genuinely, feels cumbersome. The real challenge would be to last till the very end without a quick cat nap.
Suchitra Pillai, who plays the unscrupulous army officer Tyagi, is shady even to a civilian, but she seems to be have an incredible sway and clout among her team.
Officer Sirohi (Kumar) is the good, disciplined, play-by-the-books soldier who gets his kicks from following her orders blindly. While Kumar is earnest and convincing, especially when he is battling personal demons from the past, his character isn’t gripping enough. He tries hard to resuscitate the series through sheer effort, but no effective acting can come to this series rescue.
Actress Kumra as Ahlawat shows spunk and is more memorable as a character. Actor Jitendra Joshi as the power-hungry, morally-bankrupt contractor evokes distaste, but a flaky storyline prevents us from appreciating him.
It’s safe to assume that director Rahi Anil Barve’s visually stunning 2018 feature ‘Tumbadd’ spoilt us and showed us how to mix Indian folklore and mythology with horror effectively. ‘Betaal’ only skims the surface with a superficiality that’s hard to ignore. While the premise of villagers being displaced and robbed off their rights and lands is a topical issue, ‘Betaal’ fails to exploit that rich, complex idea into a coherent story.
Watching ‘Betaal’ is death by boredom. Just like how the mean-looking village matriarch warned the army officers not to proceed with the highway plans, it would be safe if you stay away from the series altogether.