Behind Closed Doors Image

To say that Americans love sensationalized murder stories would be inaccurate. Whether we want to believe it or not, the thrill of pointing our fingers at someone else in order to feel better about ourselves is really a human trait. Go ahead: Search the internet for any country and the word “serial killer,” and you’ll find hits for at least 75 countries. The same thing happens if you enter “unsolved murder” and any country.

As humans, we just can’t get enough. We depend on our news and social media to remind us that, no matter how crappy we are to our peers, at least we’re better than that person on the screen. Scott Peterson, Casey Anthony, Amanda Knox, and Jodi Arias all became household names because our 24-hour news cycle shoved them down our throats. Just over a decade ago, a similar case took India by storm, but allegations of police misconduct and journalist interference have left the murders unsolved to this day. Director P.A. Carter examines it all in HBO’s two-part miniseries Behind Closed Doors.

“Despite beating and drugging their suspects in order to obtain a confession, they got no closer…”

On May 16, 2008, the body of Aarushi Talwar, a 13-year-old girl from an upper-middle-class family, was found in her bed by her parents. The police were called, and suspicion immediately fell on the servants, especially Hemraj Banjade, a Nepalese immigrant who lived with the family and was now missing. A manhunt ensued, going so far as to drag Banjade’s relatives to his native country, but he remained at large. The next day, his body was found in the locked terrace of the family’s apartment. The case quickly dissolved into a circus with police focusing on the parents while doing nothing to prevent anybody, including onlookers from the street, from entering the crime scene and having a look. This led to a cry for assistance from the country’s most elite police bureau, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), as the local police were seen as focusing on the parents in an attempt to cover up their incompetence.

The CBI immediately took over the case – an extremely uncharacteristic move, according to some – and they shifted their focus onto the servants. Despite beating and drugging their suspects in order to obtain a confession, they got no closer and, again, the Bureau responded to the public cries for a change and appointed a new investigating officer. Suspicion now reverted to the parents as the culprits, and the state quickly built a case against them and won, resulting in a life sentence for the Talwars, who appealed and were acquitted. Sadly, through all this back-and-forth between the police, parents, and media, the murders of Aarushi and Hemraj remain unsolved. 

“…we see how muddied the investigation became amid police misconduct, media pressure and an unspoken class division…”

Amazingly, P.A. Carter has pulled off something that we can’t even get right in America: fair and balanced reporting. His examination of the case encompasses all sides and delivers compelling arguments in every direction, so much so that we’re not sure what to believe once it’s all over. Through numerous interviews with journalists, police and even the parents, we see how muddied the investigation became amid police misconduct, media pressure, and an unspoken class division that still exists in Indian culture. In many ways, it mirrors the 1996 murder of JonBenét Ramsey, another trial by media riddled with police misconduct and/or incompetence that has also never been solved. They may look and talk differently, but humans are really the same everywhere you go.

Ultimately, this is why Behind Closed Doors is so important. It shoves a mirror in our faces and forces us to question how our own media and police operate here in the States. Law enforcement cuts corners to appease the media, who accuses them of incompetence because someone else gets higher ratings as the guilty party. Is this what we’ve come to? Hopefully, we never find ourselves in this situation because there is absolutely no way out.

Behind Closed Doors (2019) Directed by P.A. Carter.

9 out of 10 stars

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