Netflix released the three-part mini docu-series ‘House of Secrets: The Burari Diaries’ in October 2021 and has taken the OTT platform by storm ever since. Directed by Leena Yadav, the brilliant series does not even attempt to investigate the crime. Rather than indulging in the wonted ‘Whodunnit’ narrative, it is focused on exploring the discourse around the case, the ethos and pathos of the story. The docu-series may not have been successful in solving all the mystery around the horrific event but it definitely does an astute job in asking all the right questions. 

Case Details of the Burari Deaths

On July 1, 2018, Delhi woke up to the harrowing news of 11 deaths in a single household in Delhi’s north-eastern area- Burari. The deceased was found hanging to death with dupattas in their own house- 7 men and 4 women of different age groups belonging to three different generations. On inspection, the possibility of murder was quickly ruled out as the CCTV footage suggested no miscreant activity was detected in the area. The second possibility of mass suicide was contestable but not with surety as the cause of the deaths still remained unknown. Aside from the family pet dog who was found tied to a leash on the terrace, none of the family members survived to tell the tale. 

All the news channels, social media and independent journalists sensationalized the news to such an extent that a possibility of involvement of a religious Guru (tantric) came into being. However, the discovery of the 11 notebooks from the house gave much-needed clarity to the case. It was believed that the deaths were a result of some religious occult ritual gone wrong. The mini-cult was run by the younger son and the deaths were a result of a ‘shared psychosis’ behaviour. Soon after, the case was shut as there were no offenders, no accused and no complainants. Nevertheless, The Burari Deaths remained one of the horrifying crimes that gripped the country that made headlines till much after. 

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

The Docu-Series Beyond the Gory Details and Horrific Crime

House of Secrets has been divided into three significant episodes- the first one narrates the incident, the second one explores the investigations and the verdict. The most significant and the most worthwhile is the third episode that goes one step ahead of the journalists and the police findings and does the psychological and sociological autopsy of the case. Furthermore, the felicitous title does justice to the show that delves into the story and manages to give you the creeps even without revealing the footage of the actual crime (the hanging of the dead bodies).

House of Secrets

Unlike other crime documentaries, House of Secrets makes no effort to stimulate thrill or horror but instead, it steers clear of sensationalism and explores the case with much apathy and sensitivity. Most of the location and event footage shown in the documentary is borrowed from the stock footage taken at the time of the crime. Largely, the entire mise-en-scene is a combination of archived footage and chilling interviews that sets the stage on what is to follow. The docu-series digs in further than what the journalists called just ‘bizarre’ and strives to achieve a surmise that is more constructive and justifiable by including the perspectives of clinical hypnotherapists and psychologists (more on this later). 

The experts ask the right questions on what could have led to the doom. Instead of labelling the case as ‘shared psychosis’, there must be some major trigger that led people from three generations to follow Lalit blindfold (literally and figuratively) to their deaths. They even talk about why the family would hold a big fat engagement party for their daughter just 10 days before the crime. It can be conclusively deduced that the planning was not involved in deaths but was accidental. Unfortunately, the family honestly waited for the spirit of the grandfather to come and save them. Ironically, it never arrived! While all is conjecture, it is all the closure that one can get. 

Themes & Derivations

Based on what is still called one of the most grisly crimes of the country, the docu-series walks a step further and sheds light on the backwash and the pertinent questions that the case raised.

1. Mental Illness– As per the literature obtained from the house of the crime, Lalit- the younger son, was leading the mini-cult by exhorting the family members. When dug deeper, it was ascertained that Lalit was a victim of PTSD and was mentally sick. He underwent two major accidents- a bike accident first and then a conscious attack later on. In the second event, he was locked in a room that was lit on fire. He was saved in time but he apparently lost his wife for three years.

Evidently, the voice came back when the father passed away and his spirit came back to possess Lalit. Somehow Lalit convinced everyone in the family of his truth, and eventually, the father (read: the father’s spirit) led the functioning of the family through getting instructions written in the book. In this case, the bigger question is how taboo mental health is in India. Despite being educated, none of the children talked about Lalit’s mental illness to anyone outside their house.

Related to House of Secrets: 12 Films that Explore Mental Illness

2. Family Dysfunctionalities– What seemed like a normal, God-fearing and kind family turned out to be the theatre of occult happenings. So when we say that families are tight-knit and well-connected with the neighbouring families, we might be making a misled statement. Chundawat family has amicable relations with the neighbours, their kids played together, their wives were friendly, the men of the houses had shops across from each other and would indulge in a dialogue every now and then. And yet, no one had a whiff of what was happening. Or worse, what was to happen. This only suggests the stigma to reveal family secrets in Indian societies. HOS is a discreet call to call out this vice and to start talking about problems.

Also, Read: 10 Great Dysfunctional Family Films of the Decade (2010s)

3. Atheism– One other pertinent issue raised here is that of atheism. As Lalit’s friend asks this question towards the end of the documentary, ‘Is there a God?’ And if there is, why did He not stop the heinous crime from happening. Also, if there is a God, where is the line between faith and delusion? Is it alright to believe in God so much so to the point of insanity?

4. Patriarchy– It’s no secret that patriarchy is a widely accepted practice in India, even in 2021. Strangely, this is also one of the reasons leading to the Burari deaths. Lalit’s father apparently ran the family even after his death, and much to one’s dismay- there was no apparent resistance from the family. Even though the mother was alive, the family chose to be led by and followed the instructions given by a ‘spirit’ who did not even have a body of his own.

Checkout: What happens ‘When a Woman Ascends the stairs’?

All in all, House of Secrets is a thoughtfully written and well-executed docu-series that has veteran A.R. Rahman’s (and his team Qutub-e-Kripa) incredible music score to back it up. The new footage in combination with the archival media footage is enough to make you feel alive in the bylanes of Burari while you relive the mystery and trauma of the hair-raising, headline-grabbing crime.

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

House of Secrets streaming on Netflix

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