How Well Did Indian Zombie Series Betaal Do?
Indian zombie horror series Betaal launched on Netflix at the end of May 2020. The series, created by Patrick Graham, merges Indian folklore with the historical events surrounding the East India Company. With a slate of innovative and exciting films and series on Netflix, and an ability to tell new stories to eager audiences, it’s no surprise that India has finally been given a zombie story. The series is attractive enough to British audiences too, being about the shared history and being helmed by an expat. So, how did the zombie series do – and why are we still attracted to the idea of zombies?
What is Betaal About?
Betaal refers to the folklore aspect of the series, as he is a god-like ghostly figure who was featured in stories by Somdev Bhatt and the 11th century Baital Pachisi. Rumor has it that Dracula creator Bram Stoker based some of the famous vampire on Betaal and many mystics were consulted to create the folklore behind the show. Graham was fascinated by the folklore and ghost stories of India, but surprised that something similar hadn’t been done before. So he teamed up with Suhani Kanwar and Nikhil Mahajan to bring it to life.
The series focus alludes to the history in India in 1857, with the zombies being reanimated redcoats being fought by the present-day law enforcement. Set in a remote village, the series brings together many elements from zombie films and classic horror tropes as well as something quintessential to Indian history and folklore. Indian actors Vineet Kumar Singh and Aahana Kumra star in the series, which spans four episodes.
How Did the Series Do?
Critically, the series didn't get raving reviews. Film Companion’s Rahul Desai suggested the series was very spoof-like, while Poulomi Das from Silver Screen India suggested the series is light on plot and manages to stretch this one-note for nearly four hours. Others criticized the fact the show was exactly as expected and in such a time of TV and film, that’s definitely a bad thing. Compare this to Indian zombie flick Go Goa Gone, which was well received.
The series might not necessarily be bad, but it hasn’t performed as well as expected, especially as so many other zombie films and series are doing better. South Korea, who have had a slate of well-received horror films, released Train to Busan in 2016, which saw a revival on Netflix. As for US show The Walking Dead, it garnered critical success from its latest installment, season 10, despite receiving mixed reviews throughout its decade-long run.
Betaal Season 1 - Netflix Original TV Series - Trailer Video: Trailer: Betaal (2020)Betaal is an Indian fictional horror web series about a battle between modern-day cops and a centuries-old British Indian Army officer with his zombie redcoats
What Attracts Us to Zombies?
The amount of entertainment on offer to us today is vast. Zombies attract an audience due to the loose nature of the genre but also the fact that the audience know what to anticipate. Whatever zombie content they get has to fit the parameters of being innovative enough, but not subverting zombie tropes too much. Some of the most-referenced movies are those in the zombie horror genre, including Dawn of the Dead (2004), Zombieland (2009/2019), and Night of the Living Dead (1968). Zombie books, including Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (published 2009), have helped carve a popular niche for literary zombie lovers.
Zombies have also been very popular in video games and other online entertainment options. Call of Duty famously has its zombie-themed side game, while Dead Rising had four consecutive titles based around zombies on the loose. The Lost Vegas online slot uses the zombie theme to create an online casino game that uses the tension present in the game and the tension from zombies to result in a unique experience. Jogging app Zombies, Run uses the idea of zombies chasing you to get you to log more steps on the pedometer built into the app. Moreover, console game Zombie Army 4: Dead War launched on PlayStation 4 in February 2020, and Resident Evil Resistance provided zombie content for fans of multiplayer co-op gaming.
Betaal may not have gone down well with critics as creator Patrick Graham would have liked, but it has opened the door for unconventional genre-merging films. The film could find more of an audience internationally and could help change perceptions that India’s film industry is solely focused on traditional Bollywood films. The zombie genre is one that will consistently be revisited, with different stories being told each time. Maybe the next one will grab the attention of Indian audiences more than Betaal did.