Netflix India has successfully ventured into the horror genre with the miniseries “Ghoul.” The three part show is packed with unsettling torture scenes, a ghastly demon, and great performances. What elevates it from being just a basic supernatural film, however, is the political frame given to the story.
“Ghoul” is set in a future where India is ruled by a totalitarian government. The India presented here is one that burns sacrilegious books and one that practices “waapsi” or the ideological conditioning of citizens to turn away from their religion and intellectual thinking. It’s in this world that we meet Nida Rahim (Radhika Apte, a Netflix India favorite) is a new military recruit and an enhanced interrogation specialist.
The catch is that Nida herself is a Muslim. Her faith leads the hardliners around her to doubt her patriotism, even when she is a true patriot at heart. She believes everything the government is doing is for good reason. So much so that she turns in her own father for going against the government’s rules and teaching his students anti-national philosophies.
As a reward, Nida is transferred to Meghdoot 31, a black ops-like facility which holds those labelled as terrorists. They are questioned, interrogated, tortured, and even killed in this place. The building itself is sealed off with black windows so that no one inside can tell whether its day or night. It feels like it’s as much of a prison for those inside bars as it is for the security guards monitoring them.
Once she gets there, she meets the the head of this facility, Sunil Dacunha (Manav Kaul), and a group of co-workers that include Laxmi Das (Ratnabali Bhattacharjee). Laxmi immediately begins accusing Nida of being a traitor, claiming to others that she may even be associated with Ali Saeed, a terrorist on the most wanted list who had recently been captured.
Things take a turn for the worse when Ali Saeed (Mahesh Balraj) arrives. The scenic atmosphere makes it clear he hasn’t arrived alone. Instead, he brings with him something evil.
We learn that this evil is actually the ghoul of the series’ title, a creature from the Arabic folklore who can be summoned with a blood sacrifice. The ghoul eats the flesh of humans and then takes their form with a mission to eradicate those who suffer from guilt of their bad deeds. Having taken the form of Ali Saeed, the ghoul ends up torturing the officers who’ve come to torture him by making them remember their sins, their guilt, and their corrupt motives.
Eventually, the supernatural entity gives a good cat-and-mouse chase to the military officers, all the while revealing more details about them and their so-called “government work.”
As for Nida, her entire life and everything she believed in is upstaged slowly. She questions her own actions and those of her superiors while battling the ghoul. She ends up being what the horror movie genre refers to as the final girl; a survivor of a terrible ordeal who has to suffer an unpredictable, ironic fate.
“Ghoul” doesn’t just tell the story of this creature or the characters in the story. It’s equipped with several underlying messages about the government’s possibly autocratic abilities and how the world views Islam. It’s not a message that everyone in the audience will agree with but the creators have decided to intersperse it anyway, and for the most part, it adds depth to what could’ve been a run of the mill story.
The show builds on its mystery well with director Patrick Graham relying on some typical scary movie tropes and jump scares. Apte is terrific as Nida, capturing her evolution from a shy, rigid officer to a worthy opponent of the ghoul. Balraj’s work as the possessed Ali Saeed is a treat to watch. Bhattacharjee is a true standout as the loud-mouthed, strong-willed Laxmi.
The series hails from “Sacred Games” team Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap in partnership with writer and director Patrick Graham. They teamed up with Blumhouse Productions, which gave us hits like “Get Out,” to create “Ghoul.” It’s no wonder the show is layered with social messages amidst its spookiness.
“Ghoul” is available to stream on Netflix.
Image credit: Netflix India