CHENNAI: The world over superstition has fought science for centuries, and despite all the modern advancements which have rubbished claims of all things supernatural, there are many people who still hold onto superstitious beliefs.
Capitalizing on this, Netflix has just emerged with a ghostly thriller, “Betaal,” which takes its inspiration from an ancient Indian mythological tale of a noble king and an evil spirit, and has been created by no less a celebrated British director, Patrick Graham, and India’s Nikhil Mahajan.
Graham’s earlier “Ghoul,” a limited horror series inspired by an Arabic folklore about a shape-shifting cannibalistic Jinn, was a hit.
His interest lies, it seems, in folk tales and the paranormal, and in “Betaal” he creates an army of zombies – long-dead British soldiers locked up inside a tunnel. They come to life to victimize and vanquish the local village tribals.
These zombies have the power to hypnotize and turn into blood-thirsty vampires. Indeed, the right ingredients for a series of mysterious events, and happily the directors do not resort to Indian cinema’s favorite handle of jump-start to scare viewers.
It is into this plot that the movie introduces a very current evil: Land grabbing. A greedy builder is out to evict the tribals from their homes and lay a road through their land and a closed tunnel which is in the way.
Despite dire warnings not to open it, the builder, led by a police force and headed by corrupt commandant Tyagi (Suchitra Pillai) and her second officer Vikram Sirohi (Viineet Kumar), go ahead, branding the tribals Naxalites (extremists) to justify their highly illegal move.
While Sirohi, battling his own past, plays the game with half-hearted inclination, a brave tribal woman, Puniya (Manjiri Pupala), becomes his conscience keeper desperately trying to draw him away from a mission that is clearly suicidal.
“Betaal” gains relevance, given India’s questionable treatment of its tribals and methods adopted to usurp their ancestral land, snatching, in the process, their livelihoods and incomes.
The series’ four episodes are chilling, but there are times when the pace is not so smart and somewhat repetitive. “Betaal” is certainly not a patch on Graham’s “Ghoul,” and viewers should prepare themselves for a bit of disappointment.