Patrick Graham’s latest Netflix miniseries BetaaI follows a counterinsurgency squad that accidentally activates a curse in the eponymous mountain, where they arrived to displace the tribal villagers and make room for a highway.
The curse awakens an army of East India Company soldiers. For 24 hours, the forces, led by Vikram Sirohi (Viineet Kumar), must fight the zombie soldiers led by the undead Colonel Lynedoch (Richard Dillane). Betaal premieres May 24.
The four-part Hindi miniseries was created by Graham and Suhani Kanwar and directed by Graham and Nikhil Mahajan. Graham was the showrunner of the 2018 Netflix miniseries Ghoul, in which an ancient demon attacks his military captors in totalitarian India. Mahajan directed the thriller in Marathi Pune 52 (2013) and the superhero theme Baji (2015).
In Betaal, Graham merged his fascination with “retro-zombies”, like the Nazi zombies found in the video game series Wolfenstein, with the Indian tradition of betaal, a reanimated corpse that haunts cremation sites and dispenses knowledge.
âThen came the idea of ââthe evil colonel who commands the zombies like a beta-like vampire,â Graham said. Scroll. In. “The betaal, the leader of the necro-spirits, whispering and guiding Vikram, has placed himself well in this idea.”
When Mahajan read the script, he was drawn to the “human drama” of “a variety of characters thrown into an extraordinary situation, where their worst inner fears come true.”
Making comparisons to classic George A Romero zombie films, Mahajan added, âAs you see in his films, even under the most drastic of circumstances people find it difficult to work together, and only when they are. able to put aside their differences, they survive. So, the look of different types of people, glued together, trying to fight their own demons, while a bigger demon is hiding outside, I liked.
While Graham isn’t new to the scary food business, this is Mahajan’s first outing in the horror genre. “Pune 52 had heavy dramatic elements in a thriller setup, and Baji had a lot of high octane action, and I learned from these two experiments to Betaal, which is a mixture of drama, horror and action, âhe said.
The series was shot in Igatpuri and parts of Lonavala in Maharashtra. âWe built our own village at Lions Point in Lonavala,â Graham said. âWe also found these colonial barracks there, the facade of which we have redesigned for the series. In Igatpuri, where we shot at the start of the monsoon when it literally became one of the most beautiful natural spots I have ever seen, we found a fantastic rail tunnel which is the heart of the story.
Before filming, the directors divided their responsibilities on the basis of “logistics based on locations and actors,” Mahajan said. Both fired Betaal simultaneously with their respective units in different locations and soundstages.
Graham chose Viineet Kumar as leader after his performance in Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz (2018). The ensemble cast includes Aahana Kumra, Suchitra Pillai, Manjiri Pupala, Jitendra Joshi, Siddharth Menon and Ankur Vikal.
The show’s look is “dark and gothic,” and unlike anything else in Indian film and television, Graham said. “We tried to do Betaal as identifiable as possible, with a unique look and feel, and with more time we could be more experimental, âhe added.
A key element was the makeup of the zombie soldiers. âWe knew we had to create a cool new monster,â Graham said. “In fact, I hesitate to call Betaal something in the zombie genre, as they aren’t traditional zombies, which are messy corpses, but rather weird mutant envelopes of what were once human beings. UK-based company Millennium FX has worked on masks and prosthetics.
In Ghoul, the theme of a totalitarian Indian state paying the price for the abuse of minorities was evident. Betaal, with its premise of colonial soldiers opposed to their contemporary counterparts hired by non-dissimilar capitalist powers, seems to be just as political.
“All I can say is that the theme Suhani and I were looking for was that just because you’re wearing a uniform or taking orders from above, you’re not doing what’s necessarily right, and your stance does not give you the right to give up your morality as a human being, either, âGraham explained.
Betaal follows the current trend of social horror. âIn India, the parameters of horror are narrow,â Graham observed. âIn addition to the underlying horror of Betaal, there’s emotional depth, drama, action, and suspense, just like the Jordan Peele movies, which are horror, but don’t have a scare every five minutes.
Any review of a horror film that explores socio-political themes instead of sticking to the thrill of the genre doesn’t hold up for Graham. âIf I spend a year doing something, it must say things that I’m passionate about,â Graham said. “The things explored in Ghoul and Betaal are general enough for mankind. I’m certainly not trying to create controversy, but I can only do something about a topic that interests me.