In the first episode of the three-part Netflix series by director Patrick Graham, Ghoul, a Muslim man is arrested by police who ask for his identification. The man shows what apparently seems to be his Aadhaar card, an intelligent movement of the creators. Later, we learn that India has gone into a state of vigilance led by a totalitarian regime.
The state, with access to sophisticated espionage apparatuses, has instituted covert detention centers, a kind of industrial prison in Guantánamo that meets Abu Ghraib, where professors, dissidents, student activists and opposition leaders are thrown. In this dystopian India, he seems to have absolute power and anyone who questions the state is sent to “recondition,” a euphemism for torture in the third degree.
While Radhika Apte is presented as a Muslim woman eager to affirm her loyalty to the nation, her father is a university professor, a dissident, who comes in the crossfire of finding her daughter to prove her nationalism. She was included in an elite military force and sent to a detention camp called Meghdoot 31, where she discovers a mystery related to psychics and occult practices. By the way, Meghdoot was also the name of the operation launched by the Indian Armed Forces, in 1984, to claim the disputed Siachen glacier in Kashmir.
Essentially a psychological thriller with an interlaced supernatural element, Ghoul is an allegory of the growing polarization and communal divisions that surround contemporary India and other parts of the world. In it, a futuristic India has become a Hindu nation: almost all of Apte’s colleagues in the detention camp are upper-class Hindu men and she is constantly treated with skepticism for her religious identity.
In Ghoul’s India, those who dare to disagree or question are called “traitors” and “anti-nationals”, words that today do not seem out of place. When looking for a Muslim man’s car, the policeman casually asks: “Are you trying to smuggle a cow?”, A direct reference to the vigilantism of cows that has already claimed many lives in the country.
The detention camp, a seemingly extrajudicial facility installed to extract forced confessions and inflict torture, contains only imprisoned Muslims, another indication of a majority regime in place. Those who guard the place show total submission to the country, especially Sunil Dacunha of Manav Kaul, who often says: “I am a soldier, I can do anything for the country.”
While the relevance of the program to the current discourse can not be overstated, the program suffers from expository writing, especially in places where the viewer’s intelligence should have been respected. Kartik Krishnan’s dialogues feel a bit about writings and verbs. What works, up to a point, is the state of mind and his background score of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The program, although derived on a technical level, marks all the squares that give rise to the delicious noir: obsessive darkness, furious thunderstorms, howling dogs and a loose crazy killer. Could it have been better pace? Yes. For a show that has only three episodes, Ghoul may feel it is too long.
However, despite its shortcomings (Kaul looks like a complete cartoon), Ghoul’s real victory is how it works as a fantastic antidote against the neo-nationalist wave that seems to slowly creep towards Bollywood. The most frightening part of the series is how the 1984 Orwellian world imagined for India feels eerily familiar.