During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, a red tunic battalion of the East India Company army was outnumbered and trapped in a cave in a remote Indian village. Their commander, Lt. Col. John Lynedoch (Richard Dillane), a fanatic of black magic, invokes the power of Betaal, and tragedy strikes. He transforms into a zombie, attacking and infecting his own soldiers until the villagers find a way to contain the army inside the cave itself.
Fast forward to the present day: a team of Indian soldiers called the “Baaz Squad” – an elite unit of the fictitious Counterinsurgency Police Department (CIPD) – under the command of their leader, Commander Tyagi (Suchitra Pillai) and Commander Vikram Sirohi (Vineet Kumar Singh) arrive in the same village, apparently to fight the Naxalite rebels. Only Commander Tyagi knows the real reason for their presence there. Bloodshed follows and the trapped soul of Colonel John Lynedoch who is under Betaal’s spell is accidentally freed, causing havoc in the village.
Despite a strong production team, an opportunity to set a precedent and a setting that could thrill audiences, the hype of “Betaal,” India’s first zombie horror television series, died upon release. We couldn’t figure out why, so we watched it. We were so disappointed that zombie movies / series were never the same for us again.
With the company of the “king” of Bollywood Shahrukh Khan Red Pepper Entertainment as one of the producers, expectations for the series, the first of its kind to be made in India, were definitely high. But writer / director Patrick Graham’s efforts to bring the undead to life, the Indian way, have turned into a cheap parody of real zombie movies.
We won’t be commenting on acting on this one as there doesn’t seem to be any difference between the dead and the living dead. Everyone appears in a sort of daze throughout the series, with no idea what they’re doing. Experienced actors fail to impress, and new faces don’t even demand attention.
Most appalling is the lack of seriousness evident in the production unit. Despite the support of a major production house, the flaws of the series are innumerable. For example, the soldiers of the so-called elite unit communicate via wireless headsets. It’s normal. But the wireless sets used in Betaal appear to have been outsourced by one of the outsourcing companies (read: call centers) in India, so not a pleasant sight. There are so many of these details and jerks that hurt the eyes that a book on “All Wrong With Betaal” could be written.
Efforts to Indianize the living dead mark another goal against their camp: the zombies of Betaal can be repelled by a mixture of salt, turmeric and ash! The only thing left was to add a bit of “gau mutra” to the mix and credit for the script could have been given to the infamous Indian Minister of State singing “Go Corona Go”.
Without a single scene that could be described as scary or at least exciting, the series never escapes its lethargic mode. The zombies here are the product of poor prosthetic work and pale in comparison even to the demons featured in ‘Ramayana’, the 1987 Indian TV series. In fact, the ghosts and demons of 87 were much more convincing than the zombies of Betaal. There is also a clever allusion to the mythical “Vikram-Betaal” characters of Indian literature, but all creative efforts are lost in the chaotic dissonance of the series.
Fortunately, this is only a four-part series, with episodes ranging from 44 to 49 minutes. The last episode alludes to season 2 but, surely, that doesn’t happen.
Who should watch it?
If you’ve seen zombie movies like “Night of the Living Dead”, “Train to Busan” or even “World War Z”, you’ll miss Betaal. We recommend that you miss it, or just jump quickly into the first episode if you are very curious.
Rating: 1 star
Director: Patrick Graham
Actors: Richard Dillane, Suchitra Pillai, Vineet Kumar Singh
Duration: 3h (approximately)