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To those who were living under a rock and haven’t heard about the spine-chilling incident, popularly referred to as the Burari deaths, that shook the conscience of the nation 3 years ago, the new Netflix docu-series released this week is a cold reminder.
House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths transports its viewers back into the house of the Chundawat family where 10 of its family members including two 15-year-old boys were found dead on 1 July 2018 hanging from the ceiling while the grandmother was found strangled in another room. The only survivor was their pet dog named Tommy who was found tied on the terrace.
The docu-series, split into three episodes of 45 minutes each, attempts to examine the theories surrounding the deaths, which have so far spun countless narratives but none that could conclusively prove how 3 generations of a family could die in such a gruesome manner. The first episode deals with the discovery of the bodies. The second episode provides an insight into the diaries that contain clues about what happened. The third and final episode covers what exactly led to the deaths. The director duo, Leena Yadav and Anubhav Chopra, have packed a lot of facts and emotions into the 3 episodes which build up the suspense to a crescendo. This makes the series binge-worthy just to get answers to the baffling question of ‘why’. And this is where the series comes undone as at the end it turns out to be nothing but a collage of clips, interviews, and footage, most of which is already in the public domain. After all the emotional investment, the viewer is left only with unexplained grief as the question of ‘why exactly’ this happened remains unanswered.
Through the perspectives shared by the various psychologists, sociologists and doctors interviewed, one can get a fair view of the mental state of the family leading up to their deaths. House of Secrets scores on the technical aspects of storytelling and does not overplay the shock value often seen in other crime documentaries. It contains some real crime scene footage that may cause trauma, and hence viewer’s discretion is advised.
Backed by a well-written script, the directors have done a good job of exposing the dark truths of the mainstream news media who didn’t spare any opportunity to sensationalize the incident by coloring it with conspiracy theories of numerology and tantra. A.R. Rahman’s music does not disappoint and effectively elevates the storytelling. The sense of empathy that the visuals evoke is palpable as the Chundawat family seem like one amongst us – educated, employed in MNCs, upwardly mobile, on social media, and participating in wedding preparations. The fact that the incident happened to people ‘like us’ makes the viewing experience even more personal and immersive leading one to question at various points – why couldn’t they just consult a mental health professional?
The family, friends, neighbors, as well as journalists interviewed, seem honest in their admission of the scars that may just never heal. The hardened policemen, usually sensitized to gory crime scenes, talking about how the Burari deaths shook even their souls only drives home the horrific gravity of the incident. One is virtually transported to Burari and can feel their suffering. “Is there a God?” a family friend asks aloud at the end of the series, and you almost want to answer it yourself.
The documentary is a must-watch if have the grit for true crime stories and are prepared to get on an emotional roller-coaster for over 2 hours. You’re sure to come out better informed but without a sense of finality, if it was a mass murder or a suicide, a thought that is bound to stay with you for a while.
The last episode ends with a statement that is on point. “The secrecy with which it happened shows the lack of interconnectedness in the society. So, the society actually needs to have these conversations even if they are unsettling because telling the stories of these people is in itself giving a closure, both for them and us.”
To those wondering what happened to the lone survivor, the pet dog Tommy – well, he was rescued and put in a shelter where he demonstrated symptoms of depression and eventually died of a heart attack within 3 weeks at the age of six.
Watch the trailer for House of Secrets: The Burari deaths.
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