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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

House of Secrets The Burari Deaths director Leena Yadav: ‘The mind behind the crime is the biggest catch’

Director Leena Yadav on making a documentary series on the famous Burari mass-suicide case, crime and violence on screen, and how fiction differs from factual filmmaking

Written by Ektaa Malik | New Delhi |
Updated: October 13, 2021 9:16:19 am
Netflix crime docu-series, House of Secrets-- The Burari Deaths, has been created by director Leena Yadav.

Almost three years back, the country woke up to the horrific news of 11 deaths in a single night. What set aside the news of 11 dead people, was the sheer strangeness of the situation. The 11 were all part of a single family — ranging from a young teen to an elderly grandmother — and found dead hanging by their necks in the open space in their own house. It looked like a mass suicide.

Later called ‘The ‘Burari Mass Suicide case’ by the police and in media circles, the case is the subject of a latest crime docu-series, titled House of Secrets– The Burari Deaths, which has been created by director Leena Yadav. The three-part series streams on Netflix, and has a musical score that’s been composed by AR Rahman.

Yadav, like the rest of the nation was left flabbergasted by the sheer horror of it all. “At that point one wondered that will we ever get answers about the why and how of it all? That stayed with me for a while,” says Yadav, who then met with the documentary team at Netflix and told them that she wanted to explore something on this and they were onboard. But even after a whole year passing, “I knew nothing about the case,” says Yadav. “I knew tidbits, some scraps of information that were blown out of proportion, but I didn’t know the real truth. That’s what intrigued me,” adds Yadav, who has earlier directed films like Parched and Rajma Chawal.

house of secrets A still from Netflix series House of Secrets. (Photo: Netflix)

The open-and-shut nature of the Burari Deaths was also something that caught everyone’s attention. The series explains, in great detail, the ‘how’ and perhaps the ‘why’ of it all. “I think we have managed to get some answers. Some will forever remain unanswered, for it’s a case that has no witnesses, or any survivors. The why element, here in this case, is the biggest element. We spoke to so many cops, and crime reporters, who deal with macabre scenes, violence and gory crime on a daily basis. But they all agreed that this case was something else. Something about the case stayed with all of them,” adds Yadav, 50. “As for answers, the cops don’t have them. But even members of the (dead) family, who stay in a small town in Indore, don’t know the answers. It felt sad how this case fell off the map. It created this noise, and then disappeared.

When the story broke, the nation was hooked to their TV sets, waiting for updates. A decade earlier, the Nithari serial murder case and the Arushi Talwar murder case had the same effect. Police-procedurals and crime dramas remain a go-to favourite for many on the various OTT streaming platforms. “For me, the mind behind the crime is the biggest catch. Why violence? What makes anyone go to that length? That’s where it all lies,” says Yadav. Why is crime such a huge genre, across fiction and non-fiction? “There is a certain pleasure we take in watching it, it’s a moment of feeling that we are better than this” adds Yadav.

The series highlights the very secretive nature of India’s families, that how many families are seemingly, ‘normal’ and ‘well-functioning’ on the surface, but are plagued by issues of all kinds. The trailer of the series shows the dead family dancing at a wedding, and celebrating birthdays. “Ghar ki baat, ghar main hi rehni chahiye” quotes Yadav from the House of Secrets The Burari Deaths. “This has been drilled into us. As a child I thought that I was the only one suffering, and everyone else had a happy family. The best part of me growing up was that I learnt that everyone had issues. We don’t talk. It blocks us from knowing so many truths and it builds in a particular kind of trauma in us, and we grow with it being internalised,” says Yadav.

house of secrets Leena Yadav has directed Netflix series House Of Secrets. (Photo: Netflix)

House of Secrets The Burari Deaths is something of a departure for Yadav, as earlier she has made the critically acclaimed fiction film Parched, and the Rishi Kapoor-starrer comedy, Rajma Chawal. “It was different as I come from a narrative background. It was interesting to give up all control. I went into an interview not knowing what I will learn and where it will turn. I had to surrender to it, as the emotional content was so strong,” says Yadav, who is an alumna of Delhi’s LSR College and went on to study Mass Communication at Sophia College, Mumbai. “ I definitely don’t want to repeat genres. I never want to be in a comfort zone. I feel that the same thing told through a different lens will be a different experience for everyone involved,” she says.

The documentary series is also one of the few crime series that has been helmed by a woman. One wonders if telling the story through the female gaze made any difference in it’s narration. “I was keen to have as many women in the series. The deceased family had seven women and four men, so there was definitely a female perspective in the events. I don’t know intrinsically how different the narrative would have turned out if it was told by a man. But I did look for ample female voices. I was quite happy to get someone like Hemani Bhandari, the crime reporter on record,” concludes Yadav.

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