A minute or two into the the Netflix horror series Betaal, we are shown a group of villagers praying to appease the devil. The story takes place in a remote village called Nilja. A platoon of commandos is brought in to make way for the opening of a tunnel dating back to the British Raj. The village’s tribal community is hell-bent on turning this mission into a flop show, as they believe the tunnel to be haunted by the spirit of Colonel Lynedoch of the 90th Taunton Volunteers.
The show throws ample light on the age-old concept of colonisation. The British looted us for a really long time and something similar is now being practised by the corporate sector as well.
The story is more or less predictable for the most part, and follows the trials and tribulations of an elite military unit called ‘Baaz’. The story has a few striking similarities with Tumbbad, such as the dark and gory undertones, the concept of greed, etc. Platoons of zombie soldiers begin butchering the construction workers in order to satiate their hunger.
Also, the story does provide you with unintentional comic relief at some places. First and foremost, our angrezi zombies beat war drums to assemble the troops. Not to forget, they use muskets to hunt down their enemies. And that is certainly not all, as these flesh-eating monsters also have negotiation skills at their disposal.
These flesh-seeking monsters look like dummies carved out of wax and clay. They are ready to slaughter men at the behest of their commanding officer, and our protagonists find themselves in the middle of a zombie hunt. Also, commanding officer Tyagi’s hair turns white within no time and one of her team members says: “Yeh zaroor shock se hua hoga.” Oh, really?
For the most part, things are way too dark, so much so that I had to increase the brightness of my smartphone.
The music does get your heart pumping on quite a few occasions. The action sequences aren’t elaborate either, which leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth. Also, the makers seem to be obsessed with close-up shots. Once every five minutes, we get to see a bunch of ‘undead’ pieces of clay and wax with red eyeballs (and red coats).
Vineet Singh tries hard to look convincing as the hardened soldier. His performance, for the most part, looks meaningful and fleshed out. Here is a guy who can go to any extent in order to accomplish the mission assigned to him. A little more depth would have taken his performance to the next level.
Suchitra Pillai as commanding officer Tyagi is the star of this mediocre scarefest. Her devilish/diabolic stares are powerful enough to send a few shivers down your spine. She doesn’t speak much but looks flawless in each frame.
Ahana Kinda does a decent job as the brave and no-nonsense Deputy Ahluwalia. Her dialogue delivery sounds fairly convincing and feisty.
Manjari Pupala looks quite believable as a tribal woman. She looks full of energy and wit, and packs a few solid punches.
Jeetendra Joshi as the money-hungry contractor comes across as a major disappointment. There’s a scene wherein our contractor can be seen striking a business deal with the dead zombie commander Lynedoch. Alas! Logic dies a painful death in Betaal.
Patrick Graham’s outing with the zombies ends up being an exercise in futility. The problem is: he tries to blend zombie legends with Indian folklore, but ends up creating a half-baked, and a rather half-hearted scarefest that just doesn’t provide ample scares.
Betaal, the latest addition to the catalogue of undercooked scarefest, showcases a lot of promise but isn’t able to deliver much, all thanks to an undercooked (and predictable) plot, some terrible make-up, and props. Boy, these zombies need a better make-up artist.