Among so many brilliant shows and movies like Kingdom or World War Z, “Betaal” is Bollywood’s first entrant into the zombie genre but it doesn’t really live up to expectations. With “Kingdom” incorporating a unique macro perspective with an intriguing political storyline, “World war Z” telling the story from a wider canvas and “Train to Busan” relying on hitting the emotional chords, these shows and films really elevate the zombie genre from its stereotypical action thriller persona. However, ‘Betaal’ does nothing but reinforce it.
The show revolves around a greedy contractor trying to open up a sealed tunnel in a forest to construct a highway but little does he know that the tunnel has been blocked because of an old tribal curse. A tribal village attempts to stop the contractor, saying that if the curse were broken it would bring death and destruction upon all, but the contracting, ignoring all their warnings, goes and hires a military squad named CIPD to get rid of the villagers. Once the squad clears the tunnel, after killing all the villagers, they allow the ‘English, well dressed, emotional and red-eyed’ undead to return and wreak havoc on human existence.
At first glance, Betaal seems like an interesting web-series but it soon looses it’s grip on the story and so does the audience. In fact the introduction scene is quite brilliant, I was hooked immediately but as soon as the old woman jumped through that red dupatta (drapes?) of hers, I knew it was going to be like every other one of Bollywood’s typical attempts at a horror film. I’d even say that the first episode wasn’t all bad at all: a lot of positives but eventually it lost any hold it had. Following the first episode, the remaining squad members and the contractor’s family seek refuge in an British barrack, hiding from the undead British ‘army of the dead.’
The show does have some decent jump scares and grotesque deaths but it simply isn’t enough to hold its own. At some points I even found myself laughing as the protagonist was facing certain death and that didn’t make the show any more attractive to me. The ‘zombies’ weren’t scary either: their red eyes make sure that they’re far from it and coupled with their matching red coats and their smiles, nah, I’m sorry but it doesn’t work. But that’s not all, the undead seem to have negotiation skills and even emotions where one ‘zombie soldier’ calls out to another for help because he’s ‘in pain?’ Oh and they can be killed by fire or a mixture of turmeric, salt and ashes – seriously? (Indian dragonglass from GOT?) Some instances are simply common sense though. Commander Tyagi (Suchitra Pillai) undergoes a trauma/shock after entering the tunnel first and when she is rescued she’s different. She loses her mind, yes that can be reasoned out by the shock but her hair turns white almost immediately and no one even seems to care about this development at all! Her following scenes in the British barracks do add a nice touch but it’s purpose of adding an element of fear in the show is simply taken away cause of the lack of attention to these details.
Apart from that, I felt that the show tried to cram in too much for its 4-episode runtime. At times it focuses on blending in Indian mythology with the storyline and then switches to evoke patriotism by bringing up the Revolt of 1857 and the Jalianwala Bagh Massacre. Sometimes they focus on using eccentric dialogues that seem extremely misplaced for the scene and setting they’ve been spoken in or they rely on forced cuss words to carry the dialogue in the scene. Among all this the show forgets to bring forth what is most important for this series – evoking fear.
Contrastingly, the performances aren’t all that bad at all. Vineet Kumar does well as Vikram Sirohi but could’ve possible got to the next gear in terms or emotion and intensity. Jitendra Joshi does well to portray a corrupted contracter and Syna Anand does well as his daughter. Aahana Kumra and Manjiri Pupala justify their roles as well but it is simply the screenply that lets their performance down.
One of the most important aspects for a horror film or series is the sound mixing and this is one field where the series actually does really well in. The production design and makeup is quite good too but it isn’t anywhere enough to hold the show up on its own.
Betaal as a web series did seem to have a great amount of potential but it didn’t deliver what was promised. The show incorporates so many clichés throughout the stories that the viewers lose interest very quickly. The foundation was quite strong but it was simply the matter of not only looking at the details like the bright eyes of the undead and their matching red outfits but even thinking about the obvious things like Tyagi’s hair colour, zombies negotiating with the military, they crying in pain or Joshi’s contractor arguing with the zombie; they simply get the viewers confused rather than scared. The length of the series, however, helps the shows purpose. If you have nothing else on your watchlist, you can easily watch this show in one sitting. Though it may not deliver what it promised, you could pick it up cause it will definitely provide a few decent jump scares and even a few laughs.
– Aryamaan Dholakia
Aman’s Score – Aryamaan’s Score – 50/100