Posted by Grishma Trivedi
Ghoul, India’s latest addition to Netflix, though promoted as a horror series, is more of a dystopian thriller. The three episode series not only blurs the established lines between the binaries of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, but also focuses on the issue of ‘nationalism’ and ‘anti-nationalism’. The high on adrenaline series entertains and makes us question the actual reality of India. The reflection of the current socio-political situation of India which raises questions like “Who is a terrorist?” and “What is terrorism?” is also highlighted by the thriller. In addition to that, it addresses the one of the major issues of India – Islamophobia.
The series opens in a time where the government promotes the idea “The terrorists are among us”. There are convention and detention centres set all over the country which try to straighten up the ‘anti-nationals’ (most of them being Muslims in the series). There is a ban over reading, and possessing any kind of literature is considered to be anti-national and an act of terrorism. The schools are also seen to offer a restrictive syllabus and anything taught except that is considered a crime. People are scared of the government officials as they use their power to pick out anyone from their homes, torture them, and kill them. There are no particular reasons of ‘kidnapping’ them and a lot of these are based on assumptions. Sounds familiar, eh?
People are scared of the government officials as they use their power to pick out anyone from their homes, torture them, and kill them.
Nida Rahim (Radhika Apte) is shown to be training as an interrogating officer at the National Protection Services, where the orator who preaches nationalism says that the nation should come above their own families. Under the influence of what is taught to her at the academy (which is a reflection of the brain washing speeches terrorists are given), she reports her own father as he possessed ‘restricted’ literature and said things that were not at all idealisticand hence considered harmful to the nation. Do you hear the similarities shared with the speeches of our politicians?
Nida, the topper of her batch, when joins the Meghdoot 31, a conventional detention centre, faces a lot of prejudice because of her religion and the so-called ‘terrorists’ belonging to her religion. She is also tested to see where her loyalties lie and often questioned whether she would fail to be severe towards the terrorists because “They are her own”. The rising nationalism is ‘pro-Hindu’ and each and every officer named in the series is Hindu, while all the terrorists shown are Muslims. The officers, though taught to trust each other, are unable to trust a Muslim woman. Apte is also seen to be wearing a hijab in the beginning of the series, which she removes once she enters the detention centre. Separating national duty and religion are required, right?
The lack of woman characters is evident in the series. The way the sex-ratio of India is progressing, I see how the dystopia works. The job to hit the terrorists and make them speak is left to the ‘masculine’ characters.
The series successfully connects the horrors of the past and the present. The title is taken from the pre-Arabic folklore, which is spoken about as well. The ‘ghoul’ is said to a monster who possess the form of the person he has last eaten the meat of, is also acquainted with the histories of each character and uses them to “reveal their guilt, eat their flesh”. The story of each character and their wrong doing is what the ‘ghoul’ feeds on to punish them and kill them. This is where the lines between the binaries of good and evil get blurred.
The binaries between ‘them’ and ‘us’, a mirror to the Indian society, is strongly seen in the series. The segregation on the basis of religion does more harm than good.
While on one hand, the officers are seen to believe that they are killing the ‘terrorists’ for the betterment of the nation, on the other hand, most of the terrorists are shown to not even have committed crimes in the first place. They are assumed and termed, thus tortured. Not only are the assumed people killed, but their families, who have no connection with the crime are killed as well.
So, who is evil and what is evil? Who is the terrorist?
Ghoul embodies the reaction to the hyper-nationality that can be seen in the India today. The binaries between ‘them’ and ‘us’, a mirror to the Indian society, is strongly seen in the series. The segregation on the basis of religion does more harm than good. The intersection of evil and its re-presentation in terms of a folklore (which has its origin in an Arabian oral tale) is thought-provoking because here, where terrorism formally comes as an attachment to ‘evil’ and also belongs to a particular religion, the reflection of the same can be seen in the series where the ‘ghoul’ who kills the officers is evil, but the officers who kill the civilians are not. Terrorism-Religion-Evil, why are these words, when talked about in ‘nationalist’ terms, always intersecting?
The series in just 2 hours and 16 minutes talks about the major issues that the country is currently facing and incorporates it in the plot very well. I heard a group of people discussing about how Ghoul was low on horror, but, nothing scares me more than the idea of the dystopian India which looks like this one.
Grishma Trivedi has a Post-Graduate degree in English Literature. She is currently working at Ahmedabad University and GLS University. Her research interests include women’s writing, identity politics and gender studies.
Featured Image Source: Horror News Network