Sunday, July 25, 2021
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Ghoul: Watch (or don’t) as Anurag Kashyap unloads unhindered propaganda on the audience

“…I am willing to go out on a limb to assert that the second season (of the Sacred Games), scheduled to coincide with the 2019 elections, will be aimed at the end-game of showing the ruling dispensation in a negative light…”

For someone resuming writing after a hiatus, predicting the story arcs to be crafted by one of India’s most skilful bunch of film-makers was a bold little assertion made on this very portal earlier this month. Thankfully, Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane, et al. didn’t make this writer wait an entire year to feel vindicated and returned to spew their toxic leftist propaganda within a month. Only this time, any pretence of a primary plot to ship the propaganda with appears to be gone.

At the outset, I would begin by clarifying that horror is not my cup of tea. Pennywise the clown, who was beaten (literally) by a bunch of fumbling kids, haunted my nights for weeks after I watched IT, and a friend has had to pester me for days to agree to watch Annabelle: Creation. (Seeing demonic spirits fleeing from Christian symbols in the latter though, does beg the question as to what were people doing to get rid of evil for centuries before Christianity usurped native religions). So, while I cannot claim to be an authority when it comes to the genre, but I can vouch for myself as being one of the easier guys to scare-off and Netflix’s Ghoul fails miserably at it!

While we are not told what year are the events of the show are unfolding in, but ‘fascist’ India in the series is shown stuck with Maruti Esteems and landline phones in an alternate reality where intellectuals and free thinkers are being hounded for their espousal of country’s secularism by a totalitarian regime. A poorly made off-shoot of Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.

The constitution and the idea of India are in danger as Muslims are selectively rounded up and lodged in high-security prisons, and extra-judicial killings are rampant. A few Christians who toe the line of a majoritarian government though are surprisingly rewarded with high-ranking postings.

The show even uses the oft-derided phrase “wapsi” to refer to Muslims that have been tortured into re-orienting their allegiance to the state. Now, where else have the viewers read stories of such dooms-day scenarios before? Answer: In every other leftist rag that carries the rants of “intellectuals”, that the show fondly refers to, who claim they are being hounded for something as justifiable as stopping them from leeching public wealth.

What is appreciable though, is the series’ mention of themes — Aramaic Language and the Goan Inquisitions — that would never find even a fleeting mention on Indian television. One just wishes the show makers had the courage to tell the viewers how the language they pertain to was erased to extinction during the bloody and deceitful subjugation of its speakers by the community shown as persecuted in the show. Or how it is the supposed villains of the series, the Hindus, who have historically been persecuted in episodes such as the Goan Inquisitions.

The writers of the show seem well aware of the history (which is one of the only two saving graces of the show) but the brief and motivated references to history, otherwise aptly used by the writers to lend some credence to the original story, is what this writer takes exception with.

Coming back to Netflix’s Ghoul — this utterly underwhelming three-episode series, which I learnt to my surprise, took three years to make, is helmed by a greenhorn director with nothing of note to his credit previously. The trailers of the show, though, bandy about the name of the production house of Jason Blum (“the makers of Insidious and Get Out”), but since Blum’s company has produced more than ten films and TV series in 2018 alone, one can imagine the level of his involvement in a project that tries to piggyback on his reputation.

While it cannot be anyone’s case that a debutante director cannot make a good show, using Blum’s name to sell the show does smack of dishonesty. It also turns out that it was fairly recently that Netflix came on board and turned the intended feature film into a web-series, according to the makers’ “creative freedom” from the censors. Despite the association of the two deep-pocketed production houses with unrivalled experience and expertise, the make-up, the prison setup, the props and the uniforms leave a lot to be desired.

One can’t help but sympathise with the amateur British director’s failing attempts using eerie background music (the second saving grace of the show) and resorting to patchy lighting, shaky camerawork and jump-scares in the make-believe Indian Guantanamo Bay like setup (in a country which famously released the largest number of PoWs in history, almost entirely Muslims, honourably) to add some horror to the mix.

He is also let down by his dialogue writers and Indian assistants who should have been tasked with making the alternate dystopian reality narrative, believable. The aforementioned Esteems and telephones preclude the timeline from being a dystopian future to more of an alternate reality set in the 90s. The writers would have done well to give us a background on how India ends up in that fascist reality, if only they weren’t already deluded into believing that we are already living in it. A half-decent origin story is least one can expect from a show that has been three years in the making.

Sacred Games, for all its discussed flaws, was a well-made show and an engaging watch. The social media was abuzz with praises for performances of its lead actors. For Ghoul though, I have already seen a number of tweets calling out the comically exaggerated and ill-placed leftist references. We have already lamented losing creative talent to the communist echo-chamber that Bollywood has become, but after watching Netflix’s Ghoul I can cheer this bunch on as they continue to peddle propaganda and lose the love they earned laboriously into an oblivious obscurity.

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Saurabh Patel
Slave of the Big4, master of finance, and a user of Oxford commas

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