Patrick Graham's Ghoul: More than 'Netflix's first horror series in India'

Strike the deal with your blood and out of the smokeless fire, the Ghoul, it acts as a call to the avenger one wishes would remain trapped in folklore. 

If the idea of an inhuman being walking among us isn’t scary enough, imagine a world where your books have been burned, schools and universities have been shut down, and all constitutional rights have been suspended in the wake of widespread sectarian violence. This world, where the sun never seems to shine, is something that’s labelled as the “near future”.

Hot on the heels of its first Indian original, Ghoul is a three-part miniseries.

Released on Friday, Ghoul stars the dependable Radhika Apte as Nida Rahim, a specialist in advanced interrogation techniques. She may still be wet behind the ears without any on-ground experience, but her job profile is enough to scare off the uniformed guards she encounters in a world where the government controls everything.

Rahim’s character is that of an almost-graduate who holds a stellar track record in an elite academy and is given a high-priority task much before she expects it. The portrait reminds us of a certain Clarice Starling from the Hannibal Lecter universe. But the similarity ends there. While Starling may have the trust of her superiors, the unsuspecting Rahim is seen only as a pawn by her immediate seniors, Sunil Dacunha (Manav Kaul) who heads a detention centre, and an interestingly brash Ratnabali Bhattacharjee as Laxmi Das. 

Graham’s world is all too familiar, if only in theory. This is a place where seditious literature includes a collection of nursery rhymes and books on art and science. This is a country where people are taken away from their homes in the dead of the night for reconditioning, or as the unseen but all-powerful government calls it, a “wapsi”.

This is a government that isn’t answerable to its people, and its youngsters are all victims of a culture of brainwashing where questions aren’t welcome. It is this culture that Rahim relies on when she turns in her own father to the government for reconditioning. He’s a lecturer who dared to write notes from outside the government-prescribed syllabus. It is in this backdrop of a dystopian world that the ghoul is called up. One almost finds oneself welcoming it. But only up till before all the bloodshed.

A lot of Indian productions, especially those that deal in horror or spycraft, have the tendency to treat the audience as children who are in need of hand-holding. ghoul to knock them down.  

Some narratives are accused of attempting to rewrite histories. Graham’s ghoul is perhaps the only aspect of the film that hasn’t actually been a part of our national consciousness.

The production has a way of clawing into your head, but maybe not in the way of The Conjuring 2 and Annabelle: Creation, some of the films the director has a soft corner for. Horror feels more of a supplementary flavour, but then one remembers horror isn’t only about screamfests. 

Ghoul is high on ideas and low on scares of the supernatural kind. But perhaps the dystopian nation that Graham has painted is a good scare in itself.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel