Reviews, Series

Series Reviewed – Betaal is a good plot that lacks screen time

Betaal is a Netflix original series and is streaming on Netflix internationally.

Shah Rukh Khan‘s Red Chillies Entertainment production Betaal series began making headlines even before its release when Marathi screenwriters filed a case of copyright infringement. You can read the simplified details of the court case here.

Meanwhile here is my critical review of Betaal, the series that Netflix (India) has listed as number one its viewership listings (when writing this post) within a few days of its release.

And it does deserve that spot at least for a really nice attempt at trying to make an Indianised version of a zombie apocalyptic series.

However, that is what the series’ makers have restricted it to be – ‘an attempt’. The plot of the series Betaal along with the brilliantly written characters has such exhaustive substance and depth that at least eight to ten episodes could have been churned out of it in the first season with room still remaining for a second season.

The makers instead chose to play it safe and pack it all up in a one day’s worth of binge-watching. I believe that this was a strategic choice made to test the market for this kind of content in a series format.

Though this strategy seems to have worked very well in terms of popularity amongst the audience, it has also strangled and suffocated the brilliant writing by Patrick Graham and Suhani Kanwar and Adhir Bhat.

The writers have created a truly Indian version of the zombie problem by giving it a folklore background and combining the folklore with the realities of the British Raj. The settings and the profound characters also quite flawlessly complement the folklore. The casting choices though peculiar in some ways are also so perfect the actors fit the complex and profound character descriptions like pieces of a puzzle.

Betaal Trailer

As I began watching the series, I initially questioned the choice of Vineet Kumar for the role of Vikram Sirohi particularly because neither his voice nor his amiable expressions are those of a hero of the armed forces. However, as the character developed in the further episodes and his past unfolded I was convinced that none other than Kumar could have played the role so well.

Suchitra Pillai has earned all the resentment and distrust for her character commandant Tyagi and that is the mark of an excellent actor in a negative role.

Jitendra Joshi is that versatile actor who played the role of saint Tukaram and that of constable Katekar in Sacred Games with equal talent. However, the choice of casting him in the role of Ajay Mudhalvan was questionable for me initially. But again as the series proceeded and the character developed even further, I realised that none other than Joshi could have played Joshi the role of an egomaniacal, selfish bastard any better.

Puniya played by Manjiri Pupala, DC Ahluwalia played by Aahana Kumra and Siddharth Menon‘s Nadir Haq are the three roles the casting of which seemed perfect ever since they first appeared on the screen. However, these characters that have so much of back-story and sub-plots of their own get the least screen time. Regardless, the actors made the best of what they did get and have brought these characters to life in the very few independent scenes that they get.

Patrick Graham and Nikhil Mahajan have done a really great job directing Betaal despite it being a series with a western concept adapted and Indianised for Bollywood audience, written carefully and in-depth but crunched into four small episodes.

However, I am not at all satisfied with the non-sensical amount of VFX and prosthetics that make the otherwise realistic zombies look like funny dolls from a parody of Chucky movies. I am not asking directors to smash real aeroplanes into real walls like Christopher Nolan did in TENET but I would really like it if we could minimise the VFX effects to make the film look realistic.

All in all, Betaal is a must watch at least to respect the insane amount of work put in by the entire cast and crew of the series to localise zombies and present them on an International platform as an Indian series.

Click here for a simplified gist of the Betaal court case. The article is divided into various questions and you can skip ahead to any particular question that you want to be answered.

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