‘Ghoul’ is all atmosphere, no substance

Ghoul, a three-part series by Netflix; Director: Patrick Graham; Cast: Radhika Apte, Manav Kaul, SM Zaheer; Rating: **1/2

If I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought this was a low-budget horror movie from the 1980s from Ramsays’ house of horrors, with far better performances of course and production values that constantly mock at the lowbrow content.

So the content first. Ghoul pretends to be a ponderous take on Islamic profiling. We are taken into a distant future in suburban India where the omnipresent Radhika Apte, pretending to be a Muslim government agent (the veil is a dead giveaway) is assigned the job of tracking down potential terrorists. Radhika, playing Nida Rahim, apprehends her own father (SM Zaheer) for seditious activities.

Coincidentally, many intellectuals in the country were recently accused of similar crimes. The irony of art pre-meditating the headlines is lost as the plot gets progressively perverse, dark, murky, brutal, gory and finally like any horror film with the terror tropes supplanting any real chill that the plot had the potential to give out.

Ghoul could have been a bonafide shiver giver. It borrows a scary idea from an Arab fable of a satanic force acquiring human form to take revenge. But then the director Patrick Graham and his writers are able to do precious little with the infinitely eerie idea except to use it for a nauseous display of visual gruesomeness, ad nauseam, that goes from barbaric to intolerable.

Blood-splattered walls and floors are this shock-simulating horror tale’s speciality.

Passages of the well shot exercise (Jay Oza’s camera prowls with more cool than the ghoul) in visual puerility are rendered like Hollywood’s C-grade prison dramas with big-built jailors and buxom assistants making out in the prison office.

I almost held my breath for this film’s equivalent of the female jail warden (Ratnabali Bhattacharjee) to get seriously sleazy on us. We are spared that ordeal. But there is plenty still to suffer, like the ghoul-terrorist (Mahesh Balraj) chanting the diabolic equivalent of Badshah’s rap riffs.

Shot in what must be the dingiest prison location in the history of celluloid prison dramas, the inmates — all meant to be hardened terrorists responsible for many bombings and murders — are presided over by a jailor (Manav Kaul) who has a drinking problem and a complaining wife back home who we understand from a fake telephone conversation, wouldn’t let him see his daughter.

Domestic meanness is the least of the problematic pockets in a plot that creaks, groans and finally collapses under the weight of its acquired ghoulishness. It is the exploitative tone of narration, aggrandised by a lighting and colour co-ordination that favours the reeking aura of rust, that finally does the potentially explosive drama in.

Clearly, Orange is not the new Black in this prison drama. Green is.

On the plus side, the profanities are far more reined-in here than in Netflix’s Sacred Games. Weirdly, the English subtitles are far more lascivious than the spoken Hindi dialogues.

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