GHOUL (2018)

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  • Original Air Date: 24/8/2018
  • Created By: Patrick Graham
  • Cast:  Radhika Apte, Manav Kaul, Ratnabali Bhattacharjee, Mahesh Balraj

Let’s face it. Bollywood’s forte hasn’t been good horror films. Even though every year we have a sizable number of films of this genre making its way to the silver screen, not even 10 % of them can be regarded as true horror and even a lesser percentage of those make any noticeable impact. Apart from Pari, this year has been one of the dullest in terms of Horror films for Bollywood. Ghoul arrives at a time like this when our appetite for good desi horror is wetted to an all-time high. Netflix, which is fast becoming one of India’s go to place for quality desi content again teams up with Anurag Kashyap’s Phantom Films and brings us Ghoul, a series that is touted as horror but turns out to be more of a chilling thriller than an out and out horror miniseries.

Nida (Radhika Apte) is a trainee at a defense establishment. Her father is a man who is possessed of some radicle notions about freedom, religion etc. Nida, a patriot by birth and profession decides to turn her father in after she is unable to turn him away from his radicle notions. He is captured and never found again. 5 weeks before her training is over, Nida is unceremoniously recruited by Colonel Dacunha (Manav Kaul) in an establishment known as Meghdoot 31. Meghdoot 31 is dedicated to interrogation of dreaded terrorist. At least on the surface. Nida quickly learns that she has been recruited to break a dreaded terrorist Ali Saeed (Mahesh Balraj) as she is believed to be a top interrogator in her batch. Soon, Saeed arrives at the establishment and everything changes from there on.

Even though, Ghoul is marketed as a horror miniseries and has a lot of the tropes that are a standard staple of desi and even vi-desi horror, it cannot be called an out and out horror series. Yes! There are some surprises here and there and the basic premise does involve the existence of a supernatural entity but the majority of the series is handled as a well-made thriller more than anything else. For me the best things about the series was its atmosphere, its twists and turns and the performances of Radhika Apte, Manav Kaul and Ratnabali Bhattacharjee.

I have a love for contained horror and Ghoul is a good example of how to do that effectively. The series sets up it’s premise and makes us understand the topography in which it will be unfolding effectively. From the very onset, there is an atmosphere of uneasiness and sadness that larks around Meghdoot 31. This mood quickly gets on our mind and from thereon has a firm grasp of our senses. The plot builds up intelligently. There are clues here and there that are left for us to see and think about but none of it is too complicated to understand. If one looks closely, one can associate the plot and execution of the story with many other horror fares.

However, what works in its favor is the unsettling atmosphere and the background that is all too well known to us. The miniseries unfolds in the backdrop of one of the most torrid and dark times of our country and it does well to use it to the fullest even though it steers clear of any possible linkage by establishing the film in future times. Many will take offence from what the protagonist of the film takes away from her experience and it might just end up being more controversial than Netflix’s previous foray into India, Sacred Games.

Radhika Apte, sans a few unnecessary lapses (cocking the shotgun cliché) which I believe was more on part of the director than her, comes up with an engrossing essay. I have to agree that I couldn’t help but be perplexed by the ease with which she accepts the fate of her father and by the last scene where she does something that felt a tad bit comical and unnecessary. Apart from these instances, Apte remains on point throughout the series. She finds it increasingly difficult to differentiate between reality and the things the Ghoul wants to show her and that shows in her act. Also, her faith in her nationalism is violently shaken which takes a toll on her. Apte successfully brings out the nuances of this conflict through her act.

Manav Kaul is wonderful as he is always. He tries to behave sober and calm throughout his act but more often than not, he gives out hints to being a butcher and not the poised individual that he portrays himself as. The scene where he tortures Ali Saeed is an example of that. His words before he takes to torturing him reveal a lot about the man.  Ratnabali Bhattacharjee has an interesting act. From the get go she is seems to hate Nida and wants her to be locked up. We know the reason for that right in the end. It is easily one of the better twists of the film.

Having said all that, I still believe that Ghoul could have been a much better Mini Series had a little more thought gone into the making of it. The series lacks novelty. Certain things happen just so that the tale could be tied up. That has been one of the major issues with horror films and series that have shown promise but petered to a less than satisfying end. Ghoul is atmospheric. It is mostly thrilling and well-acted. However, it still takes the tried and tested path to its culmination which may not go down too well with the horror aficionados. The lack of too many in your face horror moments will also displease many horror fans.

One has to agree that Ghoul is a better watch when you look at it as a thriller and not as a horror film. I still liked it quite a bit. I believe it was totally worth the wait and it will, in the future, open doors for more such fare which will, may be able to iron out the shortcomings of this miniseries. Until then, this will be a worthy watch.

Rating: 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)

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