Avoiding sensationalism, director Lina Yadav mostly sticks to the public domain material but takes a fresh, sensitive look at it in this Netflix documentary.
In the first cut of a Netflix documentary series, sunlight is trapped in a large network of electrical wires hanging from poles in 4 narrow lane Sant Nagara in Burari, North Central Delhi. The interplay of light and darkness is a suitable visual metaphor for revision death of 11 family members it shook the conscience of the nation in July 2018.
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Murder, mass suicide, or accident during the ritual, well-known deaths were variously labeled before the case was closed, leaving many questions in the air.
Avoiding sensationalism, director Lina Yadav mostly sticks to open source material, but looks at it with a fresh, empathetic eye.
The series tackles several causes, from superstition to collective psychosis, but does not attempt to provide any clear, decisive answers. Instead, Lina, with the help of police officers, journalists, medical experts and, of course, friends, relatives and neighbors of the deceased Chundawat family is conducting a kind of social autopsy. She explores the gaps that went unsaid in the daily news and ultimately sheds light on the lack of awareness of mental health, the obsession with keeping family secrets, and the isolation one feels in a society (which ironically prides itself on being connected than when- or before).
Supported by a gripping, sad background score by A.R. Rahman, the show reminds us that Deaths of the Buryats may seem like an exceptional exception, just a splash in our social cycle, but the people who died were just like you and me; outwardly looks normal, but struggles with unrelenting emotional trauma inside…
True to its format, the creators rationalize information and insight to withstand the drama and intrigue until the last minute of the three-part series. With the advantage of retrospective analysis and budgeting, Lina joins viewpoints to delve into layers of a complex case that have remained in public memory for months even after dropping out of the news cycle.
No one foresaw this, no one could explain it in black and white, which made him suitable material for yet another true crime story that has become a trend.
The series focuses on the voyeurism that infiltrates crime coverage – but whether it’s the intimidating content of the diaries found after the incident, or the family’s fascination with numerology, there is a lot that gives goosebumps and feeds voyeurs in the audience.
What makes the show compelling is how it captures the inability of experts in various fields to answer all the questions and how the case affected the lives of the journalists who covered it, as well as the police and forensic experts who investigated it. Whatever they say, it solves a piece of the puzzle but fails to complete the picture because in the end there is no clear consensus even on whether it was a crime story. Conversations with journalists and police officers are frank. The then SHO of Burari Police Station seems to love to talk about this experience, but as the series progresses, we realize that this is just his general behavior and that he also suffered from the case.
This incident raised many questions, but ultimately the biggest mystery was how one Lalit man could have led 10 family members – the eldest was 80, and the youngest, 14 – misled by 11 years. The youngest son of matriarch Narayani Bhatia appears to be the likely performer of the horribly unfortunate ritual, but he appears to have suffered severe mental trauma since his father’s death in 2007.
However, why all the educated young people, one of whom worked for a multinational company and had an engagement ceremony a few days before the incident, humbly submitted to the mini-cult created by Lalit in the family remains unanswered.
Lina is indeed touched by the incident and the attack on Lalita, which left him temporarily losing his voice before apparently becoming the source of his dead father’s voice, but avoids delving into the role of persistent religious belief in this case. In the end, it seems that this pushed the family to an extreme step. An interview with Lalita’s niece’s fiancé and his family could open several more windows into the consciousness of the family, which kept its secrets to the very last.
House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths Now Streaming On Netflix