I believe every Netflix documentary has a set formula at this point: choose a grisly or sensational event that has perplexed audiences, try to construct a documentary around it using an excessive number of talking heads repeating the same instances over and over, and only reveal new information in the final couple of minutes that might just bring new perspectives to light. But every time that occurs, a nagging feeling persists—why wasn’t this information conveyed at least 40 minutes ago? Or an episode ago? Better still, why isn’t this a movie?
“Indian Predator: The Butcher Of Delhi” focuses on a series of murders that occurred from 2003 to 2006. I denote the years here because those are the years the Delhi Police focuses its investigation on and starts the job of pulling the threads together. A decapitated torso is left at Gate 3 of Tihar Jail, with a note from the killer taunting the Delhi Police and challenging them to find him. From that instance, ‘Indian Predator: The Butcher Of Delhi’ falls into a comfortable groove, with ex-police officers recounting the event, the procedural aspect of identifying the handwriting, of trying to figure out the identity of the killer, as we are led to interviews with a forensic scientist and a social scientist identifying and figuring out the mental landscape of the killer.
Spoiler Alert: The killer is discovered at the end of the first episode of “Indian Predator: The Butcher Of Delhi,” and by the beginning of the second episode, his identity is revealed. Ayesha Sood’s direction throughout the first episode is compelling because, like all these Netflix documentaries, the more interesting the real-life case, the more compelling the documentation of that case would be until its climactic point.
From the second episode, reenactments become a major stylistic choice to advance the narrative, as the killer’s confession gives ample opportunity for the filmmakers to flesh out his backstory. The reenactments lend credence to this being a Vice co-production because, even while tacky in some aspects, for the most part, these reenactments are pretty effective at delivering the point across. This is why using reenactments or using voice-overs to read over the letters is ample enough for delivering information. Talking heads delivering that same piece of information only results in redundancy and utilization of precious real estate of runtime, because brevity is truly the source of wit.
The third episode, though, brings out some truly interesting pieces of information, especially revealing how long the serial killing has been occurring. It also delves suitably enough into the inner psyche of the killer. However, how it chooses to do that is debatable. When one of the interviewers states, “I am more of a social scientist than a mental health professional, but common sense dictates….” your eyebrows are bound to automatically raise. Not only does this show not have access to Chandrakant (the killer) or his family, but what limited access the documentary does have is from people who deliver well-constructed and logical opinions, but nonetheless, opinions. However, the testimonies of the villagers deliver a chilling portrait. The testimony of one villager, who is scared that this would reach the ears and eyes of Chandrakant, has him scared witless, and only after being told that he is serving life imprisonment does he weep tears of relief. It is a haunting sight. These are the few moments which give this documentary its intended weight.
One of the big criticisms of “Indian Predator: The Butcher of Delhi” is its tendency to touch on topics of class division and the police’s unjust treatment of migrants. The fact that the killer belonged to the community of migrants is easily a compelling one, which should have been explored with added depth. But the documentary just chooses to touch on those topics without delving into additional consequences. Similarly, the interview of one of the wife and teenage son of one of the victims, where they describe how they were unaware of the death until years later, is a sobering look at the systemic injustice of the administrative system of this country. But instead of exploring that part to deliver additional context, the makers are content to follow the administration’s point that systemic injustice is a necessary evil in this country and has been an unfortunate reality in many of these cases, but not this one. That feels like the show tiptoeing and trying to remain as objective as possible, but all it does is result in a bland outing of a compelling true-crime saga with most of the facts parroted by talking heads and some interesting reenactments. Which, let’s be honest, is far less than a crime of this magnitude, revealing both the evil of the individual and the rot in the system, deserves.
“Indian Predator: The Butcher Of Delhi” is a three-part crime documentary series streaming on Netflix.