How Shah Rukh Khan Helped Shape Netflix’s Betaal

Betaal — the supernatural zombie horror series releasing this Sunday — is the second Netflix original for Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies, after Bard of Blood last year. And though Khan is an uncredited producer — as he prefers — on Betaal, he had a creative role to play as well. For one, Khan is responsible for the Netflix series’ exact title, Betaal creator Patrick Graham revealed to Gadgets 360: “It was originally Betal with one ‘a’. Now it’s Betaal, so that’s Shah Rukh who put the extra ‘a’ in.”

More importantly, Khan advised the makers of Betaal on the script stage, giving them tips on how to make it more accessible to Indians — Betaal is arguably the first zombie series in the country — and offering suggestions on a plot level to make the events more emotionally resonant.

Graham said Khan’s script feedback was “excellent”, while his co-director Nikhil Mahajan called him “highly intelligent”. For Mahajan, who came to Mumbai and the film industry because of Khan, meeting him was also like the poetic end to a circle.

“We had this wonderful three-hour narration with Shah Rukh and he’s the only person I’ve ever narrated to who actually looked me in the eye throughout,” Graham added. “He never once got distracted, he didn’t look at his phone. It was actually a really remarkable experience; I will never forget it.”

Mahajan noted that Khan sat with a small notebook and diligently wrote in it: “And when the narration was over, he took us through the pointers that he had written down.”

Graham said: “He gave us 12 points of feedback, that me, the co-director, and the co-writer [Suhani Kanwar] all sat and wrote down. And I think we actually enacted most of what his suggestions were, because they were great suggestions.”

Mahajan added: “It was very inspiring to see an actor and a star of his stature to do something that is fundamentally the most basic thing: writing things down so that you don’t forget. It was really sweet and humbling. And of course, he had extremely valuable insights which helped us tremendously.”

Neither Graham nor Mahajan would be drawn on the specific insights though, because they apparently involve spoilers for the Netflix series.

“Mostly, it was coming from a very strong understanding of how the audience perceive things, and how we can make slight changes to make it more accessible,” Mahajan said. “It was small things, like emotional beats, that would make things more palatable for an audience. It was stuff like that, which was very nice to see because they were right there in front of us and we couldn’t see it.”

Betaal is out May 24 on Netflix worldwide.

Can Netflix force Bollywood to reinvent itself? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS. You can also download the episode or just hit the play button below.

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