Gripping true crime in The Talwars: Behind Closed Doors

The Talwars: Behind Closed Doors is fascinating for its sensationalist rehashing of an old case; Black Mirror Season 4 is worth catching for its standout episodes that get one thinking

The Talwars: Behind Closed Doors is a spellbinding documentary about India's biggest murder mystery in the last decade: the 2008 death of 13-year-old schoolgirl Aarushi Talwar, whose throat was slit in her bedroom in the middle of the night.

With no signs of forced entry into the family home in Noida, outside New Delhi, suspicion falls first on the domestic helper, Hemraj, who is named as the prime suspect by the girl's parents, Rajesh and Nupur, a well-to-do dentist couple.

But then Hemraj's bloodied corpse is found on their roof terrace and the finger is pointed at the parents themselves.

At its worst, true crime makes for some seriously trashy television - sensationalist, mindless and often simply a rehashing of an old case.

At best, it functions as psychological drama and sociopolitical critique, or is so skilfully investigated, it reignites official lines of inquiry.

The Talwars: Behind Closed Doors does the former, but not the latter. Yet, its flaws might also make you pause and examine your own biases.

Science-fiction anthology Black Mirror (above) is back with more material that plays on dystopian fears about new technology. PHOTO: NETFLIX

First off, though, the series is highly watchable simply for its detailing of the Noida police's comical bungling of basic crime-scene management and public relations.

Also jaw-dropping are the national investigation agency's ham-fisted attempts to pin the murders on some of the Talwars' employees, whose low status is compounded by the fact that they are Nepalese and thus seen as outsiders.

The Talwars: Behind Closed Doors is a documentary about the murder of Aarushi Talwar, daughter of dentists Rajesh and Nupur Talwar (both above).  PHOTO: NETFLIX

The latter is a window into the class divides in India, which are further exaggerated by the biases of the Hindi versus the English-language media, who descend on the case and cover it obsessively.

But as you are swept away by the twists and turns in the investigation, the story becomes more than the sum of its part.

As one journalist who covered the case put it, it is no less than the story of India itself - the mindset of its people, the taboos they hold to and the conspiracy of silence surrounding them.

Ironically, as the film-makers shine a critical light on these larger issues - albeit a dim and fuzzy one - they themselves engage in some of the behaviour they lambast, including floating their own sensationalist theory about what really happened, which they unveil towards the end of the four episodes.



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There is little attempt to prove any of it and it wouldn't have been too hard to try to test any of the theories advanced - for instance, by asking an expert to clear up what happened with the Internet router in Aarushi's room.

But the documentary is uncurious about such details, or in talking to any disinterested parties, for that matter.

Once you see this, though, you might start parsing your own reactions to the different theories, asking yourself why you leaned towards one over another, and be reminded, ultimately, why a bit of scepticism is not a bad thing when it comes to true-crime shows.

Black Mirror, the science-fiction anthology series that plays on dystopian fears about new technology, is back with a new batch of six episodes.

Reviewers were sent two pages of instructions on what to reveal of the plots. The short answer: not a lot.

But the best of the episodes is USS Callister, which begins as a cheesy, retro space adventure but morphs into a sharp look at workplace politics - one that takes the sympathy you might feel for the nerdy, socially awkward underdog, and flips it on its head.

Next up is Crocodile, a thriller about a device that can capture a person's memories of an event - and how it affects a woman who is haunted by a dark past.

Another chapter, directed by Jodie Foster, imagines a futuristic surveillance tool and how it shapes the relationship between a mother and daughter.

In a fourth episode, two people navigate an all-seeing dating system that puts them through dozens of relationships, mapping out the length and prospects of each pairing in advance.

Like previous seasons of Black Mirror, this one is uneven. There are flashes of brilliance that incorporate cutting satire and insights into both the future and the present. But there are also a couple of wholly skippable episodes, storylines we've seen elsewhere, and patches of middling dialogue, bad acting and dubious American accents.

There is nothing this season that will make you rethink your current relationship with technology, like last season's takes on social media or online blackmail did.

But Season 4's standout episodes have suspense and ambition to spare and will get you thinking nonetheless.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2017, with the headline 'Gripping true crime'. Print Edition | Subscribe