The problem with “Betaal” is it tries being too many things. It tries to be a morality tale about modern-day urbanization and greed, as well as a slice of ancient lore serving up every stereotype that has ever defined ‘desi’ mumbo jumbo. There is also token mention woven in of superstition-loaded gender bias, Naxal politics, and the Indian Muslim identity.
In all this, the makers seem to have forgotten what we primarily signed up to watch — a scary show.
The lack of fear factor about “Betaal” is surprising, considering the show’s creator and co-writer Patrick Graham made the mini horror epic “Ghoul” a while back. Like “Ghoul” Graham has opted to create a limited series (“Ghoul” had only three episodes, “Betaal” has four). Unlike “Ghoul”, he fails to utilize brevity to maximize impact.
Somewhere in the heart of India, a contractor named Ajay Mudhalvan (Jitendra Joshi), who cares for money and little else, is out to construct a highway through the jungle. A mysterious, closed tunnel comes in the way, and Mudhalvan needs to destroy it. Local tribals warn him the tunnel is cursed, and venturing in could spell doom. Mudhalvan won’t believe them, of course. He hires a military squad to ensure the job gets done.
Sure enough, the squad is attacked by mysterious forces once they have entered the tunnel. The evil unleashed turns out to be an army of the undead.
Most of the actors fail to leave any impact mainly due to the mediocrity of the roles they get. Still, Viineet Kumar Singh tries adding as much heft to the show as possible with understated screen presence, as he balances intensity and vulnerability. Manjiri Pupala’s is another impressive act, as the tribal woman Puniya.
For almost every actor playing a human here, the lack of meaty characters (no pun intended) means that they tend to ‘out-zombify’ the cast that plays the undead.