Betaal (Netflix, 4 episodes)
Starring Vineet Kumar, Aahana Kumar
Directed by Patrick Graham, Nikhil Mahajan
Rating: * (1star)
It is deeply saddening to see Netflix dumping one dud after another on the OTT platform. I thought it couldn’t get any worse than the one-off feature film Mrs Serial Killer. But Betaal is even worse if that is possible. Shallow, shoddy and ill-conceived, it tries to pass itself off as a serious-minded horror show about zombies from the past, British India to be precise, attacking a corrupt caucus of law enforcers in the present who want to usurp the adivasis of their rightful land.
Plunderers of the eco-system get their comeuppance. But what about those who mess with home entertainment by making mayhem?
The messy blood-splattered battle between the past and the present is staged in a gloomy, dingy wretchedly unhappy landscape. It is a wonder no kindred spirit from the series’ technical crew pointed out the sheer futility of staging a digital series in such dimly lit squalid interiors. Almost the entire plot unfolds in night light with scores of junior artistes dressed as soldiers zombies and other uniformed spirits scampering across the frames like ants with ants in their pants.
Don’t bother with who’s who. Just pray for it to be over.
The dark despairing mood is unbroken by any sign of humour, unless you are amused by Aahana Kumra’s facial prosthetic which resembles brinjal left too long in the sun. We don’t know why she needed that facial prop, probably to give the zombies some company. Or why human characters look so comical when they turn into zombies. Maybe this is meant to be a funny take on zombie culture, like Go Goan Gone, except that the brains behind Betaal weren’t trying to be funny.
The face-off between the humans and the extra-terrestials is never convincing , or even remotely engaging. The characters, running around in ill-conceived womb-like cavernous spaces, are either shouting at one another or going grisly with grins and grimaces that are more foolish than ghoulish.
It is sad to see capable actors like Vineet Kumar, Aahana Kumra, Suchitra Pillai struggling to give a semblance of coherence to their sketchy characters. Ms. Pillai playing a commanding officer has to look like she has just seen all 4 episodes of this series repeatedly.
Even the zombies would flee to a safer place at that prospect.