“Betaal” on Netflix is not Subtle
If we try to destroy the past, evil returns
Netflix provides yet another international series with universal themes. Unlike more nuanced series on Netflix, India’s “Betaal” is not subtle in its messaging — especially concerning power struggles in India. Due to a shared colonial ancestor, however, the series is very relatable for viewers in the United States.
Ajay Mudhalvan, played greedily by Jitendra Joshi, calls upon the Baaz Squad of CIPD to clear out Nilja Village locals interfering with a construction project. Ajay and Commandant Tyagi, played perfectly by Suchitra Pillai, devise a cover story.
Shortly after a mission divides public opinion, soldiers of the Baaz Squad go to the Nilja Village under the pretense that they are helping the situation. They are told that Naxals — a group in India connected to communism — have become a nuisance in the nearby forest. Their mission is to remove the local “Naxals” so that the area may be “sanitized” through development with civilization.
Once the tunnel entrance is opened, the evil comes out to feed.
The British are Coming
It’s no secret that the supernatural baddies in this series are the British — the uniforms are shown in the trailer. In search of power, a British colonel finds a way to become ruler of the land. Unfortunately for him and his infected soldiers, the locals imprisoned him in a mountain by enclosing a tunnel entrance.
The references to colonialism are not hidden at all. To keep the evil away, a barrier made of the spice trade’s turmeric and salt is poured onto the ground. Upon realizing the British are the supernatural beings they are facing, one soldier states:
“Bloody white men. First, they plundered our country, then our jobs…then our gold, our land…and now these assholes have even stolen our evil spirits.”
If not named, the evil that Puniya — played captivatingly by Manjiri Pupala — talks about may as well be colonialism:
“A curse that stays with you till the end. Betaal’s curse. Once infected…there is no way to stop it. It spreads through your body like leprosy. And not just your body — it penetrates through to your soul. And then, these infected bodies will join his army — an army whose hunger can never be sated.”
However, a more hidden meaning behind Puniya’s statement could be concerning capitalism. Though the village locals are not Naxal, Puniya uses a sickle as her weapon of choice. The sickle is used in the symbol for communism.
“Betaal” connects the old colonialist British soldiers with the newer nationalistic United Kingdom during a scene in which Vikram Sirohi — played wonderfully by Viineet Kumar — attacks the supernatural soldiers and states, “This is what you call a hard Brexit, motherfuckers.”
The World We Live In
The universality of colonialism is played out in “Betaal” without apology. But there are other struggles that India share with the world.
The Naxal cover story in the series is straight from the Cold War playbook. Though mutually assured destruction was always present, the threat of communism spreading was used as an excuse for many questionable — if not illegal — actions by the United States.
The series drives the notion of being a good soldier and not questioning orders. And any disagreeable news is considered “fake news” and propaganda against their narrative.
In “Betaal,” a father is willing to sacrifice his daughter to gain power. It’s an analogy of how we are sacrificing the future of our children by not changing our ways. Whether it’s global warming, segregation, classism or other forms of oppression, we need to change.
We may think that being connected, such as through the internet, is better. But people who want progress are not the only users. The evil in “Betaal” connects everyone who is infected to create a hive mind. Through this connection, the infected lose their individuality and ability to think for themselves.
And the ending to Season 1 of “Betaal” creates a clear message: if we try to destroy the past, then the evil returns.
We shouldn’t shut the past out, we should learn from it. We shouldn’t rationalize our greed as we take the land of indigenous peoples. We shouldn’t sacrifice our children and their future, but teach them our failures so they can do better.