Genre: Horror fiction
The stories of Vikram and Betaal from Indian mythology have entertained thousands of Indian children back in the day. Netflix’s new four-part series ‘Betaal’ borrows the basic premise of the age-old legend and mixes it with a lot of other concepts to come up with a zombie horror movie, which though contrived, entertains only in parts. The series picks up pace with a lot of promise but begins to falter by the time it reaches the end.
‘Betaal’ begins in a remote Chhattisgarh village, bang in the middle of a dense forest, where local tribals are appeasing their guardian spirit to ward off an evil strength residing in a nearby mountain. The path to the mountain leads through a tunnel, which they believe, should be kept closed for a reason. But the state roadways construction department has different plans. They want to construct a highway passing through the tunnel that would connect the mountain range, making travelling a lot easier from the village. When the villagers wouldn’t budge in the first attempt, citing reasons that Betaal dev, when unleashed, would wreck havoc in the entire country, an elite paramilitary force is called in to tackle the issue.
Commandant Tyagi, heading the Baaz Squad comprising the cream of the crop soldiers, reaches the village, bereft of modern technology, with contractor Mudhalvan tagging along with his family. When the villagers refuse to back down again, they are branded as Naxals and taken away. A few manage to run away and block the tunnel to stop the CIPD from entering it. A tussle ensues and the paramilitary gains the upper hand. But what they discover inside the dark and long tunnel spooks the daylights out of them. Second-in-command officer Vikram Sirohi, who is fighting his own devils, takes control of the squad when Ms Tyagi is attacked inside the tunnel by unknown forces and rendered traumatised.
The squad, along with Mudhalvan’s family, tries to escape the onslaught of the red-eyed army that had been hiding inside the tunnel over the years, and enters an abandoned British military barracks, now in ruins. A local tribal Puniya tells the CIPD that a long-dead British official Colonel Lynedoch, heading a huge army of undead zombie redcoats, wants to exact revenge from centuries ago. Although they do not believe it at first, situations inside the barracks lead them to take extreme measures, putting the lives of their own people on the line. What follows is a predictable zombie apocalypse, minus logic, thrill and fear, trying very hard to emulate its glorious beginning.
Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment’s ‘Betaal’, created, co-written and co-directed by ‘Ghoul’-helmer Patrick Graham is a twisted tale of time that encapsulates the zombie thriller genre with horror, which begins to lose steam post two episodes. What works in favour of the series are the few jump scares that are sure to jolt you, the eerie background score, the balanced acting and the fresh concept. What doesn’t work in the series is everything else.
The series is stuffed with a lot of misfires that avid followers of the horror genre are sure pinpoint right at the outset. The zombies, who otherwise should have scared the audiences in a horror genre, end up making viewers laugh with some of their ‘crazy antics’. Their shoddy make-up is another turn off. The moment the walking dead are unleashed, the story only goes downhill. Also, mixing concepts of capitalism, corruption, oppression, power play and witchcraft mumbo-jumbo do not take the storyline anywhere. A fresh idea for an Indian zombie series started off on a good note but it only ends up ‘dead’ towards the climax. It fizzles out quicker than it began.
As for the cast, Vineet Kumar Singh gives a steady performance, while newbie Ahana Kumra shines in her role. Suchitra Pillai, Jitendra Joshi, newcomers Siddharth Menon, Manjiri Pupala, Jatin Goswami and Syna Anand lend their support to the tale. While the series ends on a cliff-hanger, hinting at a possible sequel, it is yet to be seen whether Vikram from ‘Betaal’ manages to make this paranormal entity stay for long.
Eventznu Rates Betaal: * *