Trigger Warning: The is a review of a show about alleged suicide/murder. It could be a tough read.
Where can you watch: Streaming on Netflix.
At one point in the final episode of Netflix’s latest true-crime documentary miniseries “House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths” we get this quote from journalist Barkha Dutt:
“The collective salacious appetite for scandal comes from the kind of othering of dysfunctionality.”
It’s one line in a show that has many great lines, from neighbours, doctors, policemen, even a priest. But it’s instructive about the significance of the 11 deaths.
The show starts by following the ensuing public and media circus. It follows that up with a deep dive into the history of the Bhatia family, piecing clues and character sketches from interviews with the neighbours and relatives. And finally, it tries to make sense of the whole thing. Now, the facts of the case are in the public domain since a long time. I could tell you all of it here and it wouldn’t constitute a spoiler. Because at its core, Leena Yadav’s miniseries is as much about what happened within and to the Bhatia family as it is about the larger society in India.
If you’re refraining from watching the show because it is “spooky” or “horror”, rest assured that that’s not the case. At least not in the traditional sense of the words. There are no jump scares here. There are no demons lurking in the shadows. The scariness of the show comes from the relatability of the whole thing. These could be people living next to us. These neighbours retelling the stories could be us, tomorrow. However much we might like to distance ourselves from a ghastly tragedy like this, we can’t simply run away, because it speaks to some of our deepest personal and social fears. These are normal people, with normal faces. The reason we identify with their lives and fear this story is because of the sheer quotidian nature of it all.
It is this commonness that Barkha Dutt’s quote above references. We think that something like this could never happen to us, or to people we know. Because, come on, 11 people of a single family dying together? In the same room? Like that? No way!
But that’s exactly what happened in 2018 in Burari. This was a standard, upwardly mobile middle-class family. Well-behaved, nice people. Living in a nice locality. We believe evil lurks away from us. As if we’re in the mythological ages where swarg (Heaven) and paatal (Underworld) were different, where you could enjoy the godly pleasures and not worry about the demons and spirits crawling beneath the ground. But that’s not the case. The tragedy – and yes, it is a tragedy – of the Bhatia family bears proof to that. And this is what Leena Yadav and her team captures so brilliantly.
To many of the people on the show, the saddest thing is the death of the family’s children. There were five of them, ranging in age from 33 to 15. To me, that’s the biggest tragedy of all. The elders of the family had seen their fair share of life. But the kids? 15, 15, 22, 25 and 33! They – at least 3 of them – had their whole lives ahead of them. They didn’t know anything about the wider world. That’s the most horrible part of it for me.
The background music by A. R. Rahman and Qutub-e-Kripa blends beautifully into the narrative of the show. Pm numerous occasions, the camera lingers and captures minute unsaid details from the faces. The narrative is taut. At roughly 135 minutes overall, the documentary doesn’t slack at any point. There’s enough here to hold your attention.
Dysfunctional families, people suffering from mental ailments of all sorts, a collective refusal to develop a scientific temper – these are issues deep-rooted in our society. Yet, for all sorts of reasons – not least a mix of pride and shame – we keep such things under the carpet. Burari is only an extreme manifestation of the problems pervading Indian society. It is time we start a dialogue about them.
Verdict: House of Secrets: Burari Deaths answers some questions about the deaths, and raises some of its own.
P. S. –
1. For more on the story, I’d recommend checking out this excellent episode from Khooni: The Crimes of India podcast, unless you’re going to watch the show right next.
2. The opening scenes show milk crates bearing Amul Taaza and Amul Gold milk pouches. As a long-time consumer, that was an interesting bit for me.
3. The introductory scenes of the then-SHO of Burari Police Station, Manoj Kumar, quickly capture fascinating tidbits about the police. The most striking one for me was to see the SHO laughing and joking about the case. Now it might seem offensive to the layperson, but after so many years on the job, having seen everything, maybe that’s a coping mechanism.
I’d love to know your thoughts on House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths and this review. Tell me in the comments.
Thanks for reading.