Cast: Viineet Kumar Singh, Ahana Kumra, Jitendra Joshi
Directors: Patrick Graham, Nikhil Mahajan
“What is dead may never die.”
This majestic line from Game of Thrones sums up the new Netflix series, presented by Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment, that is oscillating in between a jump-scare zombie show and a profound comment on corporate greed and neo-colonialism. In the end, it remains nothing more than a convoluted mess.
A special task force named the Baaz Squad, led by a dynamic officer Tyagi (Suchitra Pillai), has been deployed in the interiors of Chhattisgarh to set the area free from the Naxal clutches as the government has given a go-ahead for a highway. The second-in-command Vikram Sirohi (Viineet Kumar Singh) and his deputy Ahluwalia (Ahana Kumra), along with the team, reach at the zero ground to realise that it has more to hide than reveal.
Initially, directors Patrick Graham (Ghoul) and Nikhil Mahajan, want to show Betaal as a cursed tale of tribals and how they have become the guinea pigs for corrupt practices in the name of developments. In fact, they go to the extent of suggesting a line made of turmeric and ash to stop the evil. It might be a metaphor for homegrown solutions, but it looks absolutely funny the way it appears on screen.
The absurdities don’t stop there as Tyagi keeps switching between the human and zombie modes without much provocation. Jitendra Joshi’s all powerful contractor seems as confused as the audience as to where to stop sounding clueless. The attempt to bring magical realism into play does more harm than good, so much so that the only character which makes sense is that of a half-dead British colonel bizarrely whispering ‘come to me’ in Singh’s ears. On second thoughts, that would have been a better option!
Whenever the show tries to add dimensions, it becomes funnier, like the moment anybody starts taking orders from the corrupt seniors, their hair turn white. Who said OTTs treat the audience’s intelligence differently than the traditional films?
The makers are really angry with the fallacies of the liberal economy as they keep hurling abuses at the capitalist demons without actually knowing their actual face. I don’t know how the viewers would react in the time when most of us are actually trying to live off minimal resources under lockdown!
There are a couple of bright performances though—Viineet Kumar Singh and Manjari Pupala (Puniya). However, they are totally betrayed by the structure of the show which never lets them rise above the obvious. The idea of mixing money induced slavery and zombie apocalypse turns out to be a disaster. You may not be able to enjoy zombie shows for a while after watching Betaal.
Let’s give credit where it’s due. Betaal has some really good jolters, but you’re likely to overlook them in order to make sense of the story. Despite only 4 episodes of around 45-minutes each, Betaal would force you to wish for Vikram, of the old DD show, not the one played by Singh. Please come and get this guy off our shoulders.
Graham, who looked promising in Ghoul, has become a prisoner of his own mind castle. He couldn’t cut short the story by at least two episodes as that would have made it more bearable.
Betaal is too shallow for a serious series on capitalist exploitations and very unfunny for a zombie show. Let there be a line made of ash and turmeric around your phones or whatever device you’re planning to watch it on.
Interact with Rohit Vats at Twitter/@nawabjha