Betaal is a 2020 Netflix TV series which was released with much anticipation. And why not? Considering it is Netflix’s attempt at creating horror in the Indian filmmaking scenario where horror is a genre which is usually left ignored. And maybe rightly so, considering there’s not much interest among fans for a genre whose main aim is to scare you. So, the launch was highly anticipated, atleast by me, who is a horror fanatic.
Betaal is written and directed by Patrick Graham and is produced by our very own Red Chillies Entertainment and the horror-genre staple Blumhouse Productions. Now, I am a Blumhouse fan. They have produced some of my most favourite movies like Insidious, Sinister, Oculus, Get Out and a host of other movies like the Purge and Paranormal Activity franchises. And the production company’s involvement made this a must-watch for me.
Now, the short story for Betaal is – a military unit is sent to a remote village to clear out alleged Naxals to reopen a tunnel. However, once there, they realise that they have to put up a fight against an ancient British Army officer, Betaal, and his battalion of zombie redcoats and stop them from taking over the world.
Mild spoilers ahead!
The Tunnel and The Barracks
The first two episodes of Betaal give us a glimpse into the power play within the squad which is headed by Commandant Tyagi. We also have Second-in-Command Sirohi, who is clearly fighting past demons. And we have probably my favourite character and the moral compass of the group, DC Ahluwalia. They go into the remote forest to fight off the tribals who are blocking a construction work, but are unaware that they are being manipulated by Mudhalvan and Tyagi.
Now, the most interesting part of Betaal was the fact that the series concentrates on the powerplay within the group, and questions us every minute that, the people who we put on a pedestal, are they really worth it? Tyagi is definitely a corrupt officer. At the beginning of the series, we see her telling a professor, who was taking the tribals’ side on a news channel, to go back to a neighbouring country for his views. This is something we are all used to seeing, day in and day out. However, as in everyday life, Tyagi is celebrated as a hero by his squad members, especially by Sirohi. He follows Tyagi like a shadow. It is shown how dangerous blind faith can be when we see that Sirohi had murdered a little girl in his last mission. The guilt still haunts him, but he doesn’t budge from her superior’s side.
I like shows that point out how hypocritical the world around us is. Betaal does that very well – and that is the reason why it receives brownie points from me. Ghost Stories had done something similar, in Dibakar Banerjee’s portion. It was also one of the best stories of an otherwise disappointing venture. So, my question is, where does following orders as an excuse end and taking responsibility for a crime begin? Are really trusting the people who have the best of our interests in their hearts? Those are probably scarier questions than any ghost.
The Battle and The Colonel
Now, coming to the horror elements, let me just start by saying it’s a good venture and I’m impressed. However, am I in love with it? The answer would be no. Betaal has some really impressive practical effects, actually some of the best I’ve seen in a while, and definitely the best when it comes to Bollywood horror. The creepy imagery, the background score, the atmosphere inside the barracks – were all on-point. The makeup of the possessed/turned people were believable as well and were extremely well done. However, I do have a problem with the Colonel and his army. Those were definitely not scary, neither were they believable and those red eyes were just goofy.
Also, was I scared at any point in the series? Uh, creeped out sometimes, definitely. But not scared. However, it’s a great first step, and I’m genuinely looking forward towards more Indian horror content from Netflix.
To sum it up
There are two parts of Betaal – one is the social commentary part and one is the horror angle. The social commentary part, as stated earlier, was really well done. It’s genuinely scary as to how much it matches real life. However, the horror, not so much. The fourth and final episode, The Colonel, is probably its weakest link and gets a little repetitive. However, I’ll give kudos to some good acting from the cast.
However, inspite of all this, it is an enjoyable watch, especially in this quarantine season.
Betaal has 4 episodes, each 45 minutes long and is streaming on Netflix right now.