By Dushyant Shekhawat Jul. 03, 2018
At a time when true crime shows and podcasts are ubiquitous, the way we “consume” a murder has changed. A few years from now, the Burari case might become a Netflix series, and the way we are following it now is dictated by our hunger for a true crime show.
Yesterday, I wasn’t sure if I was watching the news or a trailer for a new true crime series when I came across the case of the Burari family in North Delhi. All 11 members of the Bhatia family were found dead in their home, with their hands bound, mouths gagged, and faces covered. Ten of the bodies were hanging by their necks from the ceiling, and the elderly grandmother was found on the ground, strangled. Not a single living thing remained in the house.
Burari is a shocking, disconcerting, puzzling story. As is the case with morbid, unexplained incidents that break through the apathy of everyday violence, it gripped me by the throat and I couldn’t look away.
I wasn’t alone. As soon as the news of the deaths broke, the Burari incident became the most talked-about story of the day. Discussions about the case led to many an extended coffee break and WhatsApp notification, as co-workers and friends all had a take to offer on one of the most bizarre deaths in recent memory. A seemingly normal family that met a dark end, links to the occult based on evidence found in the house, and allegations of foul play from a family member who lived in another city. Was it a mass murder? A mass suicide? Two 15-year-olds and a recently engaged woman included the dead – what could have pushed them to kill themselves? And what, in the name of God were those unconnected water pipes all about? It was pure headline bait, and we gobbled it up voraciously.
At a time when true crime shows and podcasts are ubiquitous, the way we “consume” a murder or other brutal crimes has changed. A few years from now, the Burari case might become fodder for a Netflix series, and the way we are following it now is dictated a little by our hunger for a true crime show. And that’s what Burari is: True crime in real time.
Murder and intrigue have a proven track record of capturing public imagination. Before Burari was the murder of Sheena Bora by her mother Indrani Mukerjea. The case broke out in 2015, and back then too, it seemed like everyone had their own theory explaining the murderer’s intentions and modus operandi. The Bora murder was followed a few months later by the death of artist Hema Upadhyay, another case where the public pored over everything related to the case. No piece of information was considered trivial or unnecessary; not the location of where the body was found, or the possible reasons for the killing, and how many people were involved in the plot.
The way we react to crime has changed, from being concerned with what happened, to seeking forensic details of why and how they happened.
The best – or worst – example of our growing fascination with unravelling real-life mysteries is probably the Aarushi Talwar case. The murder of 14-year-old Aarushi and their domestic help Hemraj was followed with such morbid fascination, that every household became a jury. So strong was the public’s hold over the case, that it ended up colouring the judgments of the investigators and those in charge of dispensing justice. The crime and subsequent court proceedings were exhaustively reported upon, and even turned into a novel, a film, and a podcast.
True crime shows and podcasts hit the sweet spot between information and entertainment. We follow the stories because they are naturally riveting, and their dramatic potential often means that we like them to be retold.
That’s how Talvar became a hit, paving the way for spiritual successors like Rustom. Indian true crime’s coming of age moment was the excellent 2017 documentary, The Karma Killings, which revisited the horrific 2006 killing spree visited upon the children of Noida, by Moninder Singh Pandher and his domestic help, Surinder Koli. In the same manner, Netflix’s hit investigative series Making a Murderer kicked off a spree of true crime shows that fanned our appetites for solving mysteries down to the last detail. Wild Wild Country, The Keepers, The Staircase – the list is long, and stacked with series that are extremely binge-worthy.
The way we react to crime has changed, from being concerned with what happened, to seeking forensic details of why and how they happened. Murder, kidnapping, blackmail – these used to be deeds committed by the worst of us, who were driven by darkly enigmatic, unknowable motives. True crime transforms them from unfathomable horrors into riddles we can solve.
This is why the 11 deaths in Burari are on every mind at the moment. The ghastly deaths are also a puzzle screaming for a solution. We’ve experienced the high of true crime, and now we’re experiencing it in real time.