After the successful of Asian zombie IPs including Train To Busan and Kingdom, it was almost inevitable that other regions would jump on and produce their own take on this ageless trope that continues to deliver new and exciting variations on the zombie genre.
On paper, Betaal has all the ingredients to be a sure-fire hit for India and it certainly stacks its cast with some famous faces including Jitendra Joshi who delivers a decent performance as Mudhalvan. The first episode ultimately serves to set the scene for the thrill ride to follow, with a creepy and relatively tense opener despite some initial flaws in its production and storytelling.
Episode 1 of Betaal begins in a torch-lit tunnel back in 1814 as Aunty is guided toward a statue for Lord of the Underworld – Betaal. They pray he stays calm and accepts their offering but after feeding the statue blood, notice that Aunty has started laughing maniacally, pleading with them to keep the tunnel closed.
We then skip forward in time to see a girl called Saanvi look at the exterior of the tunnel. Dead animals lying infront of the blocked entrance serve as an ominous warning. As she heads back to her car, we learn that the workers outside, led by her Father Mudhalvan, are in the process of digging the tunnel up. Only, tribal communities living in the Campa Forest nearby are none too happy with this idea.
Step forward the Baaz Squad. A new member known as Nadir Haq joins the ranks and is introduced to Deputy Commander Ahluwia and Sirohi. The latter has a dark past, consumed by regret over a previous incident that occurred with a little girl.
After her stint on the news, Commander Tyagi tasks Sirohi and his squad to help Mudhalvan get the tunnel open in 24 hours. That begins with visiting Nilja Village and relocating the locals there. With the villagers bundled onto trucks and taken away, two manage to sneak away and head up to visit Aunty in the middle of the woods, informing her what’s happened.
When Tyagi and her men arrive at the tunnel, they find Aunty standing before them and telling the group she won’t let them in. Mudhalvan gives the order to open fire on the locals after an explosion rocks them and believing it’s an act of war, they spray the locals with bullets.
With the tunnels open, Sirohi and the others stay alert and prepare to head inside. Tyagi heads in first and they watch her night vision camera feed as she finds a British regiment flag and a strange figure wearing East India Company wear in the distance. Only, the camera feed starts to go awry and as gunfire sounds, something stirs inside the tunnels.
Sirohi decides to head in and figure out exactly what’s happening. Finding a wounded Tyagi on the ground, Sirohi snatches her up and takes her outside as a whole wave of creatures dressed in the same army gear follow in hot pursuit.
The soldiers eventually surround the survivors as the group make it to a nearby barracks and pound on the door to be let in. Screaming for everyone to get down, the undead soldiers fire as the screen fades to black.
With a simple set-up and a group of characters that, so far at least, don’t have an awful lot of depth beyond Sirohi, it’s clear this is going to start descending into full-on action mode from here on out. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, and Sirohi’s back-story is interesting despite feeling a little cliched.
There’s certainly lots to like though and the jump scare involving the undead inside the tunnels definitely caught me off-guard! So far so good and while Betaal is unlikely to ascend to the same heights other zombie series have achieved recently, it’s off to a pretty good start.
Published: 24 May 2020 at 10:47am on