Disclaimer – This review has no spoiler.
If I were ever given a chance to teleport myself and meet one media professional, it would be the head of Netflix India Originals to ask him just one question.. Why??? Why does Netflix India keep curating substandard content one after the other – Mrs. Serial Killer, Hasmukh… and now Betaal! Produced by Red Chillies, Betaal is an Indian web series inspired from Hindu folklore that makes its foray into the world of zombies with a half-hearted attempt and lazy production work.
Set in the village of ‘Nilja’, Betaal is a fictional show in which a private construction company is given the contract to build a highway that connects major cities. For this purpose, the construction company hires a CIPD team to evacuate the tribal village. The villagers do not agree with the construction as digging up a tunnel would unleash an age-old ‘Betaal’ curse. The conflict begins when you see an army of undead British soldiers launch an attack on the entire village of Nilja killing anyone and everyone they see. The cast of this show includes Vineet Kumar Singh who plays the role of Vikram Sirohi, Suchitra Pillai who heads the CIPD as Commandant Tyagi, Jitendra Joshi as Ajay Mudhalvan, and a few others.
Just like Netflix’s Mrs. Serial Killer, the lack of a robust rationale has undone all the hard work done by everyone in this series. Unlike in Bard of Blood and Gangs of Wasseypur, Vineet Kumar did not get an opportunity to flex his acting muscles. Similarly, the range of acting is very limited for Suchitra Pillai, who plays one of three shades of acting throughout the show i.e. authoritative, angry, or crazed. Two actors that did make an impression on me were Jitendra Joshi who plays the corrupt construction head ‘Ajay Mudhalvan’, and Aahana Kumra who reminded me of ‘Nairobi’ from Money Heist with her ‘boss-lady’ character.
I began cringing within the first 16 seconds of the show as it starts with a red gothic font that gives us a preamble of the show. This reminded me of the ‘Zee Horror Show’ which aired in the ‘90s. Have we not progressed in the last three decades, that we still see top production companies using such fonts to tell the audience it’s a horror show? Next, I was dumbfounded to see a civilian (Ajay Mudhalvan) using a satellite video conference to give orders to a fictional CIPD force using foul language. Since when does a civilian have access to communicate directly with an army soldier? On top of that, listening to the characters saying “M@#$%*&*d” while being eaten by the undead or a female character saying, “M#$* mein le” while killing the undead seems far too fictionalized. Lastly, when one of the character’s hair suddenly turns white due when coming in contact with a zombie, another character reasons that it might be due to shock and everyone agrees with it. ARE YOU SERIOUS?! My nephew can come up with better reasoning and he is not even ten!
Throughout the show, I felt it had the potential to be an impactful show, especially when you realize in the second episode that the protagonist’s name is Vikram and the curse is that of Betaal. The show even had the potential to be a satire when you see a joke about Brexit or mentioning retribution for Jallianwala Bagh, but sadly, the show disappointed me on so many levels. I am not sure if this show will get approved for a second season, but if Netflix decides to choose democracy as a way of deciding, my vote would be a big ‘NO’.
You might say I am biased because of my high expectations from Netflix originals, since one of my colleagues did like the show. Her mantra – she kept the expectation really low – lower than Mrs. Serial Killer.
Reviewed by Puneet Ruparel