Last Updated: 07.49 AM, Sep 08, 2022
People die all the time and for most of it, we don’t care. There is a certain casual cruelty to life being extinguished and unless the connection to that life is personal or sensational, the news, like water off a duck’s back, ceases to stain the memory. Ditto for murders. Indian Predator — one of Netflix India’s popular but spectacularly-bland IPs — seems to think we care and so it swirls around murder, without adding any nourishing drama, cheap thrills, or insightful strokes of genius.
In its first season, Indian Predator: The Butcher Of Delhi told, as promised in the title, the story of a butcher in Delhi. The second season, Indian Predator: The Diary Of A Serial Killer, is about a butcher in Uttar Pradesh, the state with the most notorious crime statistics. Number one, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.
Ram Kolander murdered 14 people, dismembered their bodies, boiled their brains, and drank the brain-soup. For the most part, however, the show focuses on the murder of a journalist Dheerendra Singh, which shoved Kolander into the limelight.
The Butcher Of Delhi revelled in gore — entrails lying outside a body, the sharp khatch of a knife against softened flesh, the thud as the knife finally hits the bone, the rotting fingers from a hand sticking out of a wicker basket, the paint-like splatter of thick blood on walls, this thick blood being washed off by waves of water flung from a bucket. It all felt like overcompensation for not being able to interview the serial killer. Since the show was unable to speak to its protagonist, murderer Chandrakant Desai, The Butcher of Delhi investigated around him — his neighbours, legal journalists, handwriting analysts, and social scientists who take Desai’s letters, his quotes, and make sense of them. Their interviews were expected to produce a reasoned, reasonable tapestry that explained his violence (“expressed displaced anger towards his parental figures”). But what if, as Mindhunter provocatively asked, there is nothing to explain, and thus explain away? What do we do with this inexplicable human urge that some people have towards moral bedlam? How do we talk about it when we don’t even have access to them?
The Diary Of A Serial Killer, however, did get access to the accused Ram, or Raja (as he’s christened himself) Kolander, and so the show stews deeper in his psychology. That he was megalomaniacal, saw himself as a Kol king — assertions made to visuals of a throne in an empty hall with blood-red drapes fluttering, and one powerful source of light from behind and above the throne. Then, there are those who attempt to provide explanations for his actions, like the experts who conclude Kolander drank brain soup because he thought intellect, like osmosis, could be absorbed. The show pokes holes at this assertion of boiling brains by inviting an anthropologist who tosses around the word “subaltern” and gives us the political context of the state and time.
The anthropologist brings up Kolander’s identity as a Kol tribal, and so argues that the cannibalistic stories spun around him might be because of the systemic bias against Adivasis. (Charges of cannibalism were not proven in court.) But this Kol-ness and the discourse around the rise of politicians like the Yadavs and Kanshi Ram which happened in the early 2000s, when Kol was arrested, feel like deadweight. These threads aren’t tied to the meandering story, merely left unattended as floating thought bubbles. It is flimsy, this device of inviting psychologists and activists and anthropologists — all men — to convince us that the show has been thorough with its research. To tell a story, research isn’t enough. To be compelling is an art that is distinct from being pedantic.
Kolander’s presence also produces a unique problem. He denies all allegations, noting that his arrest is a political ploy, and the arthritically-painful, episodic three-part documentary, in not wanting to take sides, devolves into a he-said-he-said badminton match. Even small details — Did he own a jeep? Did he eat meat? Why was he in solitary confinement? — are contested. The questions asked to him, which we can hear dimly in the background, don’t seem in any way profound, provocative, or clarifying. At one point the interviewer calls him a genius, as though buttering him up for a clenching question — but it never comes. The makers seem glad to merely have the access, never challenging Kolander or those who speak against him. It is the hubris of storytelling that they think we are invested enough to be pushed and teased in different directions, willing to experience the onslaught of alternating points of view. That we are willing to, want to make up our mind because the show, in all its fragile conscience, refuses to.
Ultimately, the crime is solved just as quickly as it is introduced, with the remaining runtime attempting to tie up loose ends and investigate intent. We are told some of the 14 people he allegedly murdered are still alive. What of that claim? Actually, I don’t care. If the show refuses to — or is unable to — pull me into a world, horrify me by its implications, threaten my peace of mind, then why must I forcefully throw myself against it?
Shows like Indian Predator pick up cases to dramatise, not just because of how sensational they were in their time but also because of how exceptional they were. You do not watch them and wonder, like you did with House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths, whether you know and live among such people? The superficial ordinariness is what made the Chundawat family remarkable and House of Secrets used storytelling devices, like zooming in on old photographs to emphasise how their apparent banality hid tragedy, trauma, and unanswered questions. Both seasons of Indian Predator do the opposite, using gore to shock and distance the viewer from the subject. The storytelling emphasises an exceptionalism, removing these murderers from the norm instead of locating them within it. This makes Indian Predator feel like a flat, disorganised assemblage of opinions and events, a lifeless jotting without the creeping chill or fear that comes from wondering how closeby is horror, how natural its existence, how frequent its expression, and how grotesque its incarnation.